The Ornamental Grass Collection was established in 1995 when the Ames Garden Club funded a trial bed of 25 cultivars of Miscanthus sinensis, (Chinese Silver Grass). This planting was one of the first regional public garden plantings which was evaluated for several years as part of a public/private consortium of growers led by Mary Meyer of the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.
The collection is of greatest interest in the fall when the prominent plumes showcase their luster. Twenty-five specimens of replicated Miscanthus sinensis cultivars provide a great opportunity for visitors to perform visual comparisons. Records indicated a harsh winter in 1995 which removed entire cultivars from the trial. Buchloe dactyloides (Buffalo grass), was obtained from Dr. Terry Riordan from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, to fill the abandoned spots from 1995.
Iowa was once the land of tall grass prairie with soil and light intensity ideal for the growth of many members of the grass (Poacae) family. Grass-like plants such as sedges (Carex species) and rushes (Juncus species) grow well, albeit in more shaded or moist locations. Miscanthus sinensis and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) cultivars are some of the best choices for winter interest as their foliage and plumes holding well throughout the year. Breeders have given the horticulture industry over 100 Miscanthus sinensis cultivars to choose from. The largest we display is the aptly named ‘Silberfeder’, making 7-foot wide fountain with feathery, silvery flowers. The smallest is ‘Gold Bar’ at about 18 inches with a strictly upright physique. The fine textured, late flowering older cultivar ‘Gracillimus’ or maiden grass holds well over winter but an early frost can doom its blossoms, robbing the winter show.
A few Miscanthus cultivars in our collection also display unique fine textured foliage. Examples in our collection
include ‘Gracillimus’, ‘Graziella’, and ‘November Sunset’. There also are many variegated forms with green/white or green/yellow variegation. Vertical stripes are found on ‘Rigoletto’, and ‘Variegatus’. Horizontal gold bars on a wider blade ‘Strictus’ (Porcupine grass) and ‘Puenktchen’ increases the visual appeal of the grass clump even when not in bloom.
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