Stipa tenuissima: wonderfully impressive with its evergreen base clump of 60cm (24in) high leaves topped, in summer, with an array of flowering spikes, which turn from silvery green to gold and reach 2.5m (8ft).
A neat, compact, perennial grass, this has lots of close-packed, stiff, thread-like stems forming a strongly horizontal shape. In summer, plants are covered with masses of elegant pale feathery seed-heads which are held a little above the foliage. These can be cut and dried when first opened for use in winter arrangements indoors. Alternatively they make a useful winter food source for finches and other seed-eating birds.
Plants like a sunny well-drained spot and associate well with compact alstroemerias, rock plants and other grasses that enjoy similar growing conditions.
In winter, while your garden sleeps, these ornamental grasses add colour, texture, and movement. Backlighting grasses is another way to wake up landscapes. Ornamental grasses are easy to maintain, but the rewards are great when grasses grace your landscape.
Sowing: Sow in Spring, February to April
Stipa germinates easily from seed sown in spring. Sow finely in trays containing well drained soil, or sow in cells, 2 to 3 seeds per cell. Cover the seeds with a very fine layer of sieved soil and keep at around 20ºC (68ºF). Seeds germinate in about two to four weeks but can occasionally be slower and irregular. Keep in cooler conditions after germination occurs.
Germination to transplant usually takes around four to six weeks. Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, take a small clump and put them all in a one-litre pot of gritty compost. They will form a bushy plant and be ready to go into the garden in summer. Plants in containers should be looked after carefully and not allowed to stand in full drip trays.
Plant out after all risk of frost. Grow in sun and in well drained soil.
Stipa are happy in well-drained soil in a sunny position. In the border, Stipa do not like to be crowded, mimicking how they grow on open sites in their native habitat. They will roll up their leaves in drought conditions while they do not cope well at all with having their roots wet in winter.
Feed in spring like ordinary perennials, with a single dressing of a general fertiliser. Even without an annual feed, most grasses will put on a first-rate show. The more nitrogen grasses receive the greener and further they’ll grow. This spreading habit is fine in a field, but in a garden they may become too lush and the flower quality may suffer.
Once the plant is established, divide in March to April. It is relatively easy to propagate by division. Do this in spring, not autumn, as some newly divided plants may rot before they’ve developed a good root system.
Pony Tails can be dried and make interesting focal or secondary flowers in dried arrangements. Cut the flower at the height of bloom and hang upside down in a cool, dark place to dry.
Architectural, Cottage/Informal Garden, Drought Resistant, Flower Arranging, Flowers Borders and Beds, Low Maintenance or Mediterranean.
Stipa is a perennial grass species in the family Poaceae. It is a huge genus of around 300 species.
They originate from temperate and warm-temperate regions in Europe, Asia, New Zealand and the Americas. They can be deciduous or evergreen grasses and their natural habitat is open woodlands, stony slopes and steppes.
The genus has become more difficult to pin down after being reclassified. Many species have been renamed but continue to be referred to as Stipa in the trade.
The needlegrasses were until recently known as part of the Nassella genus. The Latin name nassa means ‘wicker basket’ or ‘net’. But now Jepson has lumped them back into Stipa, whence they emerged some years back.
Stipa is derived from the Greek stuppeion, meaning ‘fibre’, alluding to the plumose awns or (more likely) to the fibre obtained from esparto grass (e.g. Stipa tenacissima). It is occasionally called Esparto, or Esparto grass. Espartinas, a town in the province of Seville, Spain
The species name tenuissima means ‘with finely-divided, slender leaves’.
It is common referred to as Pony Tails, Silky Thread Grass or Mexican Feather Grass
Outside of ornamental horticulture, Stipa is a useful economic plant. S. tenacissima, or esparto grass, is grown in north-west Africa and the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. Its fibres are used to weave cords, bags, baskets and the once again trendy espadrille.
The fibres are also used to make high-quality paper often used in book manufacturing as well as very fine paper for rolling cigarettes. It is usually combined with five to ten percent wood pulp. The “Spanish” grade is usually regarded as the higher-quality, while the “Tripoli” grade, from Africa, is the lesser in quality.
The fibres are fairly short in relation to their width; yet do not create any significant amount of dust. Because of the short fibre length, the tensile strength of the paper is less than that of many other papers, but its resistance to shrinkage and stretching is superior, and the paper is a well-filled, dense paper with excellent inking qualities. It also has very good folding properties.
First used in Great Britain in 1850, it has been used extensively there and in Europe, but is rarely found in the United States because of the cost of transport.
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