The Plant Native

Purple Muhly Grass

Highlights

Yes—this is a real, native plant—not one manufactured by Photoshop. Purple Muhly Grass is thin, green, and elegant in the spring and summer, and followed by frothy pink-purple tufts in the fall. Purple Muhly Grass is stunning when planted in clumps. Pair it with native flowers like Rattlesnake Master, Golden Alexander, coneflowers, and asters, and don’t forget to add a nametag—your neighbors will want some, too. Scroll on to find planting tips.

Full Sun – Part Shade
1-3′ tall
Turns purple in the fall
Muhlenbergia capillaris
You can plant this native grass in clumps and call your landscaping complete

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant native Purple Muhly Grass

Table of Contents

Purple Muhly Grass is a stunning, easy-to-care-for native grass that puts on a purple-tipped show from August to October. It is native to a huge section of North America, and is drought-tolerant and salt-tolerant (which means it can withstand being planted near roads.) Not only that—it’s evergreen. Here are a few more reasons why planting Purple Muhly Grass is beneficial.

What are the benefits of planting Purple Muhly Grass?

Planting native plants makes our yards and spaces gorgeous while helping the birds, butterflies, and animals (and helping save us time!) Here are three reasons why planting native is worth it:

  1. Without native plants, iconic animals like Monarch butterflies and songbirds won’t have the food or homes needed to survive
  2. Native plants save time and money: after the first year of getting established, native plants are happy with rain
  3. Native plants are gorgeous! Purple Muhly Grass is a perfect example of how beautiful and resilient native plants are—they are always the best choice for our gardens.
Purple Muhly Grass is drought tolerant and highly Instagrammable
Purple Muhly Grass has a very large native range. Map from the USDA

Where is Purple Muhly Grass native?

Purple Muhly Grass is native to half of the United States, from New York south to Florida, and west to Texas.

How big does Purple Muhly Grass get?

Purple Muhly Grass gets three feet wide and three feet tall. 

Does Purple Muhly Grass come back year after year?

Yes! Because Purple Muhly Grass is a perennial, plant once and it will come back year after year.

What does Purple Muhly Grass look like when it’s not blooming?

Purple Muhly Grass has green, thin blades of grass year-round. Here’s how it looks throughout the seasons:

  • In the spring, new shoots of blue-green grass grow. Use it like a green backdrop with spring-flowering natives nearby.
  • In the summer, the long thin blades of grass grow long—2-3 feet—and stay green.
  • From August through October, enjoy their pink-purple clouds alongside green stems.
  • In late fall and winter, the purple clouds turn to light bronze. This is the plant’s seed stage, and you’ll see songbirds visiting to get a snack.
  • In the early spring, cut the plant back to 6″ high, to encourage new growth and start fresh for the season.
Purple Muhly Grass turns from purple to bronze in the late fall and winter. Trim the tops if this bothers you!

A note about planting: make sure there is good drainage

Purple Muhly Grass is very resilient: it is drought-tolerant and can happily grow in clay or rocky soils. The only thing Purple Muhly Grass does not like is being water-logged. Ensure it’s planted in an area with good drainage.

What are good places to plant Purple Muhly Grass?

Good spots for planting Purple Muhly Grass include flower gardens, borders, parking lots, along roadsides, and against buildings. As long as there is drainage so water doesn’t collect, Purple Muhly Grass thrives in a wide variety of places.

Purple Muhly Grass looks amazing in a group planting

Because it looks so good planted in a group, we’ve included it in our round-up of Single-Plant Gardens, which are landscaping ideas driven by a single plant (aka one-stop landscaping.)

Why is it called Muhly grass?

According to the North Carolina Extension Gardener Toolbox, the name comes from an early American botanist who lived in Pennsylvania during the times of the Revolutionary War. “The genus, Muhlenbergia, was named after Gotthilf Muhlenberg, a botanist, chemist, and mineralogist. He is credited with classifying and naming at least 150 species of plants in his Index Flora Lancastriensis, published in 1785. He lived from 1753-1815. The specific epithet, capillaris, means fine or hair-like.”

Muhly grass is just one of thousands of plants and animals’ Latin names inspired by humans. Recently, this practice has been questioned. An international team of researchers argued in 2023, “The Earth’s biodiversity is part of a global heritage that should not be trivialized by association with any single human individual, whatever their perceived worth.” Smithsonian magazine has a good overview if you’d like to learn more.

What are good pairings for Purple Muhly Grass?

Pair Purple Muhly Grass with plants that match the light it’s planted in. Full sun pairings include coneflower, Rattlesnake Master, milkweed, goldenrod, and Bee Balm. Part sun pairings include Golden Alexander, False Blue Indigo, asters, and Alumroot.

Full sun pairings

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Bee Balm

coneflower-native-plant-swallowtail-butterfly

Coneflower

goldenrod-flowers-in-the-garden

Goldenrod

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Milkweed

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Queen of the Prairie

rattlesnake-master-flowers

Rattlesnake Master

Part sun pairings

Purple Muhly Grass is a super easy-to-grow native grass that looks stop-you-in-your-tracks stunning when it’s in bloom in the late summer and fall. It looks best planted in large groups, so you can enjoy its frothy pink-purple blooms. Because it is a perennial, plant it once and it will return year after year. Make sure you make a nametag—people will want to know how they can get some, too. 

UPDATED —
02/19/2024
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