Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Silky Thread Grass: Fiber Most Slender

No longer are grasses simply used in lawns as outdoor carpeting. Ornamental grasses have become increasingly popular in recent years for providing structure, movement, color and texture in the garden. Furthermore, ornamental grasses improve wildlife habitat by providing food and shelter.

Silky Thread Grass (Stipa tenuissima syn. Nassella tenuissima)

Most ornamental grasses are species that have been recognized in their native environment as having ornamental potential. Few are "new and improved" by breeding for desirable characteristics. Silky Thread Grass (Stipa tenuissima syn. Nassella tenuissima) is a fine example.

Also known as Mexican Feather Grass, Mexican Needle Grass and Pony Tails, Stipa tenuissima is native to the Southwestern United States and Mexico. Its name, pronounced "STEE-pa" or "STY-pa" and "ten-yoo-ISS-ee-muh", means "fiber most slender."

It is a beauty. Maturing at 24 inches to 36 inches height, the graceful arching leaves and soft, billowing flowers are very lovely when stirred by a breeze. Its common names, Silky Thread Grass and Pony Tails really do describe it well.

Stipa tenuissima thrives in full sun and average, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8. It is hardy in USDA climate zones 7 to 10. Plants spaced 18 inches apart will grow together as a soft, fluffy ground cover.

Though Silky Thread Grass is considered to be low-maintenance, that doesn't mean NO maintenance. It does need occasional attention to keep it looking tidy. Here's why. Stipa self-sows freely, which is fine it you want more of it, but not so good if you don't. Deadhead the fluffy flowers if you want to avoid volunteer plants next season.

Stipa tenuissima is also called Mexican Needle Grass for good reason. The fine filaments may irritate sensitive skin. Don't get it in your eyes, nose or mouth. If you have dogs or cats that like to munch on grass, be aware that it may be difficult to dislodge if ingested by pets.

Otherwise, Silky Thread Grass is a fine ornamental grass for xeriscaping, low borders, edging, containers, ground cover and accents. It is certainly one of the most beautiful.

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