What sets them apart from other grasses is the mass of bristly bottlebrush spikes held upright or arching, like fountains, above slender, graceful foliage. The flowers may be creamy or biscuit-coloured, some with pink or red overtones, with many retaining their looks throughout autumn and into winter.
The long narrow foliage is attractive all year round, but looks its best in autumn, when it develops golden, buttery shades, often with coppery overtones. Some cultivars of one species, the half-hardy Pennisetum x advena, have dramatic dark-red and variegated leaves.
More advice on growing ornamental grasses:
- How to transplant pheasant grass (video)
- Caring for grasses – Golden Rules (video)
- How to plant flowers with grasses (video)
Discover beautiful pennisetums to grow and how to grow them.
Pennisetum thunbergii 'Red Buttons'
Bright-red bunny tails, fading to biscuit brown, are carried above glossy-green foliage. Flowers from July October.
Height x spread: 90cm x 90cm.
Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Little Bunny'
Neat and compact with narrow foliage and greenish-cream flowers on arching stems. Flowers August to November.
H x S: 45cm x 45cm.
Greyish leaves with fluffy flowerheads. Less hardy than some, but superb in a pot. In blooms from July to October.
H x S: 60cm x 60cm.
Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln'
Especially free-flowering, with soft, pink-tinted white flowerheads. Flowers from July to September.
H x S: 1.2m x 1m.
Pennisetum x advena 'Rubrum'
Red foliage and arching, reddish-purple flowers. Not hardy, but great in a sheltered pot. Flowers from July to November.
H x S: 1.5m x 1m.
Caring for pennisetum grasses
- Happy in most free-draining soils that are not wet in winter
- Best in full sun and will tolerate some shade from the side, but not from overhead
- All those mentioned here except Pennisetum x advena (and many we rarely grow) are hardy in the right conditions
- All are good in pots and will tolerate an occasional missed watering
- Cut back to ground level in spring just as the new growth starts