Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Guide to Common Names of Ornamental Grasses

Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola', shinning with yellow tulips at Chanticleer Gardens in April.
Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola', shinning with yellow tulips at Chanticleer Gardens in April.
I am learning a ton about ornamental grasses this summer by reading a book called Designing with Grasses by Neil Lucas. While in the middle of the book though, I started to feel that my head could just not wrap itself around all of the new grass names.  Learning the Latin is one thing, and learning the common name is another. Putting them both together was giving me fits!

So I did the only sensible thing and stopped my reading to make a chart to equate the Latin and common names of grasses and grass-like plants by using the really handy grass directory at this end of the book. When I finished I wondered, how many other gardeners might appreciate a short list to help them learn and brush-up on grass names? This is especially important to US gardeners, I think, because we often use both common and Latin names simultaneously or interchangeably. Most of the UK garden literature I read tends to stick with just the Latin.

This list contains the Latin genus name and some common name(s) of grasses and grass-like plants. I did not include every grass family in the directory, but just the ones that seemed most relevant to me considering that I live in hardiness zone 5. If you click on the Latin name, you will open a link to Google images so that you can see photos of the assorted grasses in each genus.

... And if this list is totally overwhelming to you, I made ten of the most common garden ornamental grass names in bold so that you could skip the rest... Or you might still want to look at the photo links.  I hope that you discover some new grasses that you love!

Achnatherum (formerly Stipa) = Needle Grasses
Anemunthele = Wind Grasses or Pheasant's Tail Grass
Arundo = Reeds

Bouteloua = Grama or Mosquito Grass
Briza = Quaking Grass

Calamagrostis = Feather Reed Grasses
Carex = Sedges
Chasmanthium = Wild Oats or Northern Sea Oats
Chionochloa = Tussock Grasses
Cortaderia = Pampas Grasses

Deschampsia = Hair Grass

Elymus = Wheat Grass or Wild Rye
Eragrostis = Love Grass

Festuca = Fescue

Hakonechola = Hakone or Japanese Forest Grass
Helictotrichon = Oat Grass
Holcus = Velvet Grass
Hordeum = Foxtail Barley

Imperata = Blood Grasses

Jarava (formerly Stipa) = Feather Grasses
Jancus = Rushes

Leymus = Rye Grass
Luzula = Wood Rush

Miscanthus = Silver Grass
Molinia = Purple Moor Grass
Muhlenbergia = Pink Muhly

Nassella (also formerly Stipa) = Needle Grasses

Ophiopogon = Mondo Grass

Panicum = Switch Grass, Panic Grass or Millet
Pennisetum = Fountain Grasses
Phalaris = Reed Canary Grass
Phragmites = Reeds
Poa = Blue Grass

Saccharum = Sugar Grass
Schizachrium = Bluestem
Schoenoplectus = Bulrushes
Sesleria = Moor Grass
Sorghastrum = Indian Grass
Sporobolus = Dropseed Grasses
Stipa = Feather Grass

Typha = Cattails

Uncinia = Hook Sedge

Dwarf Silver Grass, Miscanthus sinensis 'Dixieland', in our Driveway Garden with the Drumstick allium, Allium sphaerocephalon.
Dwarf Silver Grass, Miscanthus sinensis 'Dixieland', in our Driveway Garden with the Drumstick allium, Allium sphaerocephalon.
For more information, read my book review on Designing with Grasses by Neil Lucas.


  1. What a great idea! Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. I have to copy all these common name because I don't know and are very useful.Thank you, Julie!

    1. Glad that you find it helpful, Nadezda! There are more common names, but these seem to be the most common of the common... that is the problems with common names after all.

  3. What a great idea...I wish I'd thought of that back in the can be pretty hard trying to remember all those names...and pairing them up! So excited you're getting into grasses...they are so fabulous!

    1. I have you to thank, Scott, getting me further interested in grasses. Your garden looks great with them all!

  4. Beautiful photographs, fantastic flowers, miraculous colours. I am greeting

  5. Great job Julie. Grasses often have very confusing names and often the American version of the Latin anme is different than than the European (very, very confusing). Stipa tenuissima is an example of this; then the latin name gets changed altogether as nightmare, which sorted - thank you.

    1. Thanks Christina,
      The common names were compiled mostly from Mr. Lucas' book, so hopefully they meet our common ground in most cases... it is kind of a mess though as they keep changing things!

  6. Latin names are a problem to learn, but then we all know what we are talking about, common names vary from country to country and that is where confusion lies. I just wish they wouldn't keep changing plant names once I have learnt them!!

    1. I feel your pain there, Pauline! It is a bit frustrating to be learning names only to have to learn more unruly Latin just months later. Gardens seem to love change. :)

  7. I just printed out your list and am putting it in my garden files. So many grasses I'm not familiar with yet!

    1. So glad it is helpful to you too, Jason! It helped me to remember more by typing them out for this post.

  8. A very handy list. I'm hoping to plant some ornamental grasses soon, so this is helpful. Thanks!

  9. I was so confused for years that i just decided to give up figuring it out for a while..thx Julie for making this great reference...

  10. That first post image with the yellow tulips is simply amazing. Thanks for the informative post. I will have to read your book review. I don't use a lot of grasses in my garden, but you may have inspired me to learn more =)


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