Prized for its rich burgundy foliage and foxtail-like spikes, purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum') is an outstanding ornamental grass for flower beds or containers.
It adds intense color and lofty height to the back of a border or the center of a large container planting. The foliage is / to ½ inches wide and about 10 inches long. Its 12-inch plumes, arching above the foliage, appear purple-red in summer and turn brown in autumn. Pennesetum setaceum is native to tropical Africa and Southwest Asia. The cultivar ‘Rubrum' is a perennial in Zones 9 and 10 and an annual in colder zones.
Common name: Red fountain grass; purple fountain grass
Botanical name: Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum'
Plant type: Clump-forming perennial grass
Zones: 9 to 10
Height: 3 to 4 feet tall, except in the South, where it can reach 6 feet
Spread: 2 to 4 feet
- Sun: Full sun.
- Soil: A moist, well-drained site is ideal, but it will survive in clay or sandy soils if it has enough moisture.
- Moisture: Average moisture; will not do well in wet sites.
- Mulch: Where hardy, none needed. Where not hardy, treat as an annual.
- Pruning: Cut dead top growth in late fall or early spring in areas where the grass is a perennial.
- Fertilizer: None needed.
- Divide in late spring or early summer.
Pests and diseases
- ‘Rubrum' may reseed in perennial beds-watch for young seedlings and remove them so the grass won't become invasive.
- Flowers look great in arrangements.
- ‘Rubrum' tolerates windy sites.
- Another cultivar, ‘Rubrum Dwarf', grows only 2 ½ to 3 feet tall with a more compact form but the same outstanding color.
- Plant next to Gloriosa Daisy Mixed (Rudbeckia hirta). With golden rays and burgundy-brown centers, the flowers bloom most of the summer, reach 36 inches tall, and provide a sunny contrast to the dark grass.
- Related species
- Pennisetum glaucum is millet, a significant food source in some parts of the world. A new ornamental millet, Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Majesty', was recently awarded a Gold Medal by All-American Selections. Described as "tall, dark, and handsome," it has a rich burgundy color, grows 5 feet tall, and sports seed spikes that attract birds.
All in the family
- Poaceae is a huge family of grasses, including St. Augustine grass, Bermuda grass, Kentucky bluegrass, corn, rice, and bamboo.
(Text by Mary Pestel, photo by Amy Sumner)