An overview of the common muhly grasses

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There are approximately 160 species of Muhlenbergia, most occurring in the new world, with 44 occurring in Arizona. The greatest number are native to the southwestern United States and Mexico, but there are also native species in Canada, Central and South America and in Asia.

Most have potential as landscape plants in Arizona--many species tend to form perfect mounds of varying size and often have attractive colorful plumes, mostly in late summer to fall. Though not all of the muhlys go dormant in the winter (grass turns tan to brown and stops growing) even when they do, they still have an attractive form.

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Muhlys are superior choices for the landscape since they are native, and much nicer-looking than the invasive fountain grass (never plant fountain grass). And they look like they belong here. When planted with other native plants, they help create a very regional and unique sense of place.

Most muhly species are larval hosts to butterflies and moth species (some specific larval hosts are mentioned below). These species are also important to birds and native bees for nest-building.

All our muhly grasses are moderate to low water-users, all can take full sun to part shade (some can take full shade). All look look their best in full or almost full sun, especially when it comes to blooming time. Very little maintenance is required of these attractive accent plants, but if the plant is getting a little ragged looking, or has gone completely dormant in the winter, you can cut the clump back to about an inch or two from the ground to rejuvenate with fresh foliage (true of almost all grass species).  

The Common Muhlys

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Muhlenbergia capillaris
Gulf Muhly

3’x3’, spikier erect foliage
Haze of deep pink flowers in fall.
Full sun (can take reflected heat) to filtered shade.
0º F
‘White Cloud’ has a spray of white flowers instead of the usual pink.

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Muhlenbergia dubia
Pine Muhly

2.5x2.5
The perfect compact alternative for the regular deergrass (M. rigens). This plant has finer foliage.
Tan flower spikes in late summer, early fall.
0º F

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Muhlenbergia dumosa
Bamboo Muhly

3’ tall, 4-5’ wide, this lacy grass looks like a miniature bamboo with exposed segmented stems. Full sun, reflected sun, to filtered shade.
10º F
Larval host plant for the orange skipperling (Copaeodes aurantiacus).

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Muhlenbergia emersleyi
Bullgrass

2-3’ tall and wide, wider leaf blade than most muhlys.
Light rosy purple flowers in fall.
Full sun - part shade
-10º F
“El Toro” was selected for its more brightly colored blooms
Larval host for the red-bordered skipper (Gyrocheilus patrobas) and the large roadside-skipper (Amblyscirtes exoteria)

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Muhlenbergia lindheimeri
Blue Muhly

Upright growing-to about 5’ tall, 4’ wide
Light tan spikes in fall
Full sun-part shade
Can take lower water situations better than other muhlys
-10º F

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Muhlenbergia X ‘pink flamingo'
Pink Flamingo Grass

Very upright growing, 4-5’ tall, about 2’ wide
Hybrid of Muhlenbergia capillaris and Muhlenbergia lindheimeri
Pink flowers in fall.
Full sun (reflected heat) to filtered shade.
-10º F

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Muhlenbergia porteri
Bush Muhly

1-3 feet tall and wide, with spreading culms (one of the few muhlys that spread)
One of the more wild-looking muhlys
Full to part sun
Loose spike of purplish flower spikes that fades to tan in fall.
0º F
One of the better muhlys for seed loving birds.

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Muhlenbergia reverchonii
Seep Muhly

2-3’ tall, 2 feet wide
Resembles a smaller version of M. capillaris
Soft pink flowers in fall.
Full sun (reflected heat) to part shade
-10º F
'Autumn Embers' is noted for its more colorful reddish-pink bloom.

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Muhlenbergia rigens
Deergrass

4-5’x4-5’
Tan flower spikes in fall.
-10º F
Full sun (reflected heat) to part shade.
Larval food plant for one of the Satyrid butterflies, the California ringlet (Coenonympha california) and for the umber skipper (Poanes melane).

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Muhlenbergia rigida
Purple Muhly

A compact 2’x2’ mount
Purplish tan spikes in late summer to fall
Full sun (reflected heat) to part shade
-10º F

 

Katherine Gierlach