Plant of the Week: Pink Muhly Grass

pink muhly grassIn autumn, the flowers of the pink muhly grass have a feathered, cloud-like appearance. Photo by Friends of the High Line

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

Pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, is a warm-season perennial grass named after famed botanist Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg. It is known for the pink and purple cloud-like appearance of its flowers in autumn, and this feathered look is due to thinly branched inflorescences that mature from the bottom up. In addition, this grass boasts handsome foliage that is bright green in summer and turns a tawny bronze in fall. Hardy, drought-tolerant, and able to thrive in versatile conditions, there is no question that this low maintenance grass is perfect for any number of gardens.

But M. capillaris’s recent explosion in popularity has been problematic, and underscores the importance of sustainability in the sourcing and cultivation of native species. Although M. capillaris is native to most of the eastern United States, where it serves as an important range grass, it is now becoming endangered in many northern states due partly to over-cultivation as an ornamental crop and the overdevelopment and decimation of its native habitat. The plant's nature as a beautiful, non-aggressive ornamental grass has made it vulnerable to the encroaching sprawl. And as gardeners we have a responsibility to maintain the survival of native species – not only in the gardens we tend to, but in the environment as a whole.

You can find M. capillaris in the Washington Grasslands, just south of West 13th street.

WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
In the Washington Grasslands, between Little West 12th and West 13th Streets

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