There was a time in the not too distant past, when life was simple and this gorgeous ornamental grass was simply known as Pheasant’s Tail Grass or, for those that had been to college, Stipa arundinacea.
Now, life is that bit more complicated and its new name is Anemanthele lessoniana, which is apparently pronounced ăn-e-man-thee-le less-o-nee-ana - and is so much harder to remember not to mention a bit of a mouthful!
Anemanthele lessoniana is a valuable evergreen perennial grass with narrow leathery dark green arching leaves. In colder months the leaves become bronzed and streaked turning orange-red in late summer and throughout the winter. The colour is especially valuable in winter when there may be less to catch your eye in the garden.
From midsummer to early autumn it produces open, airy panicles of purple-green flowers that that hang down, almost touching the ground. They give the plant a pleasing overall arching habit – every lightest breeze will tussle and ripple this graceful confection.
This perennial grass can be used as a specimen plant in small spaces or in group plantings along borders for colour contrast. It can be grown in containers in a courtyard or on a patio or given space in the garden. Once it matures it can grow to a height of 1 metre (3ft) tall by 120cm (4ft) wide. It can be divided to keep it within bounds or left to mature in a large garden where it will look truly magnificent.
This easy-care ornamental grass is hardy to minus 12°C (10°F) and copes with shade or blasting hot sun, drought and outright neglect. In fact, don’t overwater this plant; it grows best in well-drained, slightly dry potting soil
To quote the Plantsman E.A. Bowles - 'The Pheasant's Tail Grass as it is called - goodness knows why, as it is no more like a pheasant's tail than a pig's - is one of the most beautiful of all light grasses'.
- Awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit
Anemanthele lessoniana has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Sowing: Sow in November to March
Sow in a well-lit position, into a good, soil-based compost. Cover seeds thinly and keep moist at around 15°C (60°F). Some New Zealand species can be very slow indeed and may need cooler temperatures before they will come up. Grass seedlings should be potted on and grown on singly, or in clumps for more rapid establishment of a large specimen.
Anemanthele lessoniana is easily grown in average, medium to dry soils, in full sun or shade. It also does well in heavy clay soils, unlike many other ornamental grasses. Once established it has a low water requirement, responding to mulch and an occasional deep watering during dry periods, particularly for young plants.
This grass along with many plants originating from New Zealand is tough as nails. It is hardy to minus 12°C (10°F) but does not like to be waterlogged in winter. If it is sat in water through the winter it will die so make sure drainage is good as you plant the plants in the garden.
In spring, tease out dead foliage by gently running your fingers through it as if it were hair. If it needs a gentle hand it should be cut back to no lower than 15cm (6in).
The plants may self-seed, but simply pull out seedlings when you see them.
In a few years the plant may need to be divided. It is a fairly easy plant to dig out of the ground in contrast with many of the deeper rooting grasses. Older plants may be tough to divide as the plant has a thick woody interior. Use a coarse-toothed pruning saw to cut through this part. Split the plant into two or three equal parts and replant.
Architectural, Ground cover, Gravel garden. Naturalising.
Anemanthele is a monotypic genus of grass indigenous to New Zealand. Its only species is Anemanthele lessoniana. This is a naturally rare declining grass in the wild but it is now widely cultivated for use as an ornamental garden plant. It is endemic to both the North and South Islands of New Zealand but mainly on the eastern side South to Otago.
It can be found growing on the cost and into the adjoining mountains. It also occurs in open forests or along forest margins and in scrubland or on bluffs. It grows in an open to exposed sunny to semi shaded positions tolerating frost, wind and drought.
The genus name Anemanthele means 'windsept plume'. It derives from the Greek anemos meaning ‘wind’ and anthelion which is a flowerlet or inforescence.
The species name lessoniana is named for Pierre Adolphe Lesson (1805-1888), the French physician and botanist.
(Pierre Adolphe Lesson is sometimes confused with his elder brother René Primevère Lesson (1794-1849) who was a pharmacist and also a naturalist. René is most famous for being the first naturalist to see birds of paradise in the wild.)
Most commonly known as Pheasant's Tail Grass, it is also known as Buffalo's Gold, Pheasant Tails or Sirocco
In New Zealand it is commonly known as Gossamer grass, Rainbow Grass or Wind grass due to the seeds on slender stems that shimmer in the wind.
Synonyms: Oryzopsis rigida, Oryzopsis lessoniana
- Awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit
- Additional Information
Packet Size 25mg Average Seed Count 100 Seeds Common Name formerly Stipa arundinacea Other Common Names New Zealand Wind Grass, Buffalo's Gold, Pheasant Tails,
Sirocco or Gossamer grass.
Family Poaceae Genus Anemanthele Species lessoniana Synonym Oryzopsis rigida, Oryzopsis lessoniana Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Airy panicles of purple-green flowers Natural Flower Time Midsummer to early autumn Foliage Evergreen Height 100cm (39in) Spread 120cm (48in) Position Full Sun prefered