Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fountain blood grass

Species name: Pennisetum setaceum

Common name: fountain grass

Location: Ontario

This species of grass is native to Africa, where it survives very hot and very dry temperatures on a regular basis. Despite this, fountain grass can also tolerate very wet conditions, making it an ideal plant for areas where there is a prolonged dry season but also a wet season as well. It can tolerate very cold temperatures (but the leaves should be cut back to the ground level or a few inches above the ground in order to tolerate the winter), and so is a popular plant in Canada and much of the United States. The grass in its natural or wild type form is green, but many varieties and cultivars have been created with different amounts of red; the plant commonly known as "blood grass" is another variety of this species. The major downside to this plant, and the reason why I would never recommend it to be planted in Canada and especially the southern United States is that it is an invasive species when left unchecked, and can completely dominate dry grasslands if given the chance. In Canada, the plant doesn't flower well, and when it does flower (as the plants in the pictures above are doing) it doesn't produce many viable seeds. This is a completely different story than in Georgia and Florida, where it thrives and outcompetes native grass species. If you could tolerate the razor-sharp edges of the blades of the leaves, it would make a fantastic lawn grass! Mowing it constantly would ensure that no seeds are produced.

Other than the ornamental value this plant has, it has no economic value. It was once suggested as a possible biomass crop, but it only grows to 3 or 4 feet at most in a season which is significantly less than other suggested biomass crops. Since it also can be invasive (and can increase the risk of forest fires in an area because of the low, dense, dry vegetation), it has been abandoned as an economically viable biomass species in favour of efforts being concentrated with other grasses like Miscanthus (which you can read all about HERE and HERE).