Sunday, June 26, 2011

The most beautiful grass

There are a lot of grasses I like, but Stipa barbata, sometimes called Stipa 'Silver Feather' holds a special place in my heart. When blooming, it is certainly the most graceful thing in the garden. The soft blond "feathers" float and undulate with the slightest breeze. A photograph rarely does them justice. One really needs to videotape their graceful movements.

stipa barbata seeds

stipa barbata

When not in bloom, there isn't much to the plant. In fact, the sparse dried-looking leaf blades often look dead. I've learned to leave them alone and I am rewarded in summer with those golden tassels. It isn't the type of plant you would want to use as a groundcover since it covers nothing. I plant them in groups of at least 3 so that the massed bloom stalks make a good impact. They also like it on the drier side. I've found the perfect home for them in my forsaken sunny parking strip where most plants fail. Interplanted with low succulents, they are able to take advantage of the breezes out by the street to dance and wave, catching the late evening sun.

But the fun has just begun because once the seeds mature and fall from the plant they do the most interesting things. When first separated from the plant the long dark brown part of the seed are straight as an arrow, tipped with a sharp point. The blond "feather" catches the wind and allows the seed to float to a new home.

stipa feathersstipa arrows

I usually collect the seed for future crops and I noticed after a few days the straight dark brown stems had developed attractive spiral twists. Out in the garden I began to notice that seeds that had escaped my collecting had burrowed themselves into the ground. It must be that spring-loaded spiral twisting that forces the seed into the ground. How cool! A seed that plants itself!

spring loadedstipa drilling in

I've since noticed that other Stipas have the ability to twist into the soil - especially the extremely prolific Stipa tenuissima, aka Mexican Feather Grass. On close examination, its small seeds are miniature replicas of Stipa barbata. Even though some seeds remain in my garden, I've never seen them germinate out there, even though the readily do at the nursery.

Do try to collect some of the seeds and bring them inside. A bowl full of them is lovely or try putting a few in a small vase for a charming dried arrangement.

bowl of feathers

You can sometimes find Stipa barbata at Annie's Annuals and Perennials.


  1. Fascinating. I've got tons of Mexican Feather Grass in my garden. I'll look more closely at the seeds. I've also got Stipa gigantea and I'll be watching it closely too. Great post.

  2. That spiral is amazing. I haven't grown this grass. Looks like a good one to grow with small agaves and succulents. Another AA wishlist nominee!

  3. Isn't it gorgeous?! We have Austrostipa here in Australia. If you hold a seed in your hand with a drop of water it will twist, they only do their thing when damp/wet :) Fascinating, but terrible to get out of your socks!

  4. Absolutely amazing...who knew! Isn't nature crafty...always a step ahead of us! I will have to keep an eye out for this grass from now on!


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