Pennisetum spathiolatum

This pennisetum, the Slender Veldt Grass from South Africa, has been on my mind for some time. The form of it has, at least. I didn’t know its name until last week.


I was hoping to find this form in Stipa gigantea, low grassy growth, tall, waving inflorescences, which has been planted in the front gravel garden but has yet to flower.
It wasn’t until I saw this pennisetum at a nursery last week that I realized it was the one.
This grass, no more than 18 inches tall, grows as a low clump but is topped by tall, reedy inflorescences of over 3 feet beginning in early summer.
Digging Dog’s description conveys this unique habit, but other descriptions I’ve read fall short and leave it unclear as to whether you’ll be living with a 3-4 foot unmanageable beast, as stout in the middle as it is tall. The clump in the photo below is about a foot across, and Digging Dog lists mature size at 3’–4-1/2′ high x 2′ wide. (Bottom of the frame is a hesperaloe, not a grass, and one of the pennisetums is just adjacent to the hesperaloe.)


I brought home three in gallon cans, in full bloom, and planted them last week. My fall-planting extravaganza. As can be seen from the photos, the Slender Veldt Grass doesn’t have an exceptionally notable leaf or bloom, but this habit of growth sets it apart and gives it a place near walkways, to stir into motion with an absent-minded wave of the hand when the wind is still. Its diaphanous habit will not obscure the plantings beyond, and its aerial grace releases the eye from the tyranny ground level sometimes exerts in a small garden. I often find myself stooped over, hands behind my back, examining the low grasses and succulents and other small treasures used for the edges at the front of the garden. This little grass seems perfect for adding another dimension, mixing it up at mid-level but without adding excessive bulk.


(And, yes, that silly cat doesn’t seem to mind a bit of rain.)

Zoned to 7, maybe 6, evergreen in my zone 10, full sun, drought tolerant.

Edited 12/18/10 to add notes taken by My Back 40/Chuck B. from a John Greenlee lecture: “His favorite three grasses for the basic California meadow garden: Carex divulsa, Pennisetum spathiolatum, Festuca mairei. He identified three qualities important for a garden meadow grass. It should: 1) have a noticeable flower, 2) not drop seed, 3) be evergreen.”

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3 Responses to Pennisetum spathiolatum

  1. Kathy says:

    I know exactly what your’re talking about Denise, I admired S. gigantea when I visited DD in Sept for the very reasons you describe; a modestly sized clump with blooms that are tall without overpowering..nice stuff for a small garden. I came home with something that I failed to document , i.e. no tag.

    The silly cats at my house will not tolerate the rain. They prefer fleece throws and the dining room table.

  2. Scott says:

    I agree…it’s a wonderful, lovely and unusual grass. I picked on up at our local garden show and sale this fall and am in LOVE with it!

  3. I can’t wait to see how it does for you. I have long been a fan of this airy grass.

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