Gulf Muhly Grass (Grass Family)
Muhlenbergia capillaris (Poaceae)
Origin: Florida, Eastern U.S.
If not the most attractive grass native to Florida, Muhly Grass would at least be near the top of the list. A clumping grass typically 3 ft. in diameter and 3 ft. tall, it has super fine, upright leaves that look good all year long when other grasses can look “weedy.” Muhlenbergia can take your breath away when autumn comes along and it blooms, especially large groupings. If anyone has ever wondered what the purple-pink billowing clouds are out at Siesta Key beach access points, this is it. Long inflorescences rise above the clump of leaves and push out super-fine purple to pink colored flowers, which dance in the wind and look like purple haze. After the flowers come grey seed heads, less attractive but still dancing in the wind and lasting through the winter.
Muhlenbergia is used extensively in landscaping, especially in areas that are not frequently maintained, such as roadway medians and parking lots. Although it is native to wet areas and can tolerate standing water, it needs no supplemental irrigation once established and is very drought tolerant. Fertilizer is unnecessary,y and it has no pest issues. Clumps can be maintained by cutting them back once a year, usually in February. Muhly adds beauty to any home landscape as well, and is a great choice for swale areas that are bone dry until the rains come.
In Florida, Muhly Grass is found growing in a variety of habitats from marsh edges and wetlands to sand dunes and pine flatlands. It thrives in full sun but can take quite a bit of shade, too. Here at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, it is planted in several locations including the Green Roof exhibit and the Tidal Lagoon. And don’t forget to look for it at the beach, at the mall, and in the newly planted medians on roadways throughout the county.
Text by David Troxell