Long before cattle and oil wells invaded the West and Central Texas, tallgrass prairie covered the landscape. According to the Native Prairie Association of Texas, less than 1 percent of the original 20 million acres of Texas’ beautiful tallgrass prairie remains. Homeowners plant native Texas ornamental grasses, many of which were originally prairie grasses, to add beauty to their landscapes as well as to take advantage of the water conversation and survivability native plants bring to areas where water is scarce.
Several varieties of muhly grass grow as ornamental plants in Texas including mist, ear, pink, gulf, Lindheimers and seep. Of these, pink muhly grass is one of the most popular because of its showy late summer flowers. Pink muhly grass grows 4 feet high and 3 feet wide. It has a cascading foliage and profuse blooms. The plant is tolerant of poor soil and limited supplemental water. It is immune to disease and not bothered by pests.
Another popular muhly grass grown in the Texas Hill Country is Muhlenbergia lindheimeri (also called big muhly). This ornamental grows as tall as 5 feet and can be used in place of Pampas grass for screening. It is a perennial bunchgrass with fine foliage and a fountain-like form covered with silvery seedheads.
Blue Grama is a short ornamental grass often used as a border plant. Growing 12 to 18 inches high, it is heat and drought tolerant and pest resistant. Blue Grama grows well in West Texas, the High Plains and the western portion of the Edwards Plateau because of its ability to survive in alkaline soils. It is a bunch grass and the seedheads have a strong bluish cast. Blue Grama is attractive when added to a rock garden or interspersed with other native plants in a desert garden.
Big bluestem is a tall-growing native ornamental grass that can reach 8 feet tall. It blooms from August through November in full sun or partial shade. It tolerates acidic East Texas soils and alkaline West Texas calcareous soil; however, it prefers the climate conditions in South and Central Texas. In far West Texas, the plants require supplemental water. When growing as an ornamental garden plant outside of West Texas, do not pamper it too much with water or fertilizer because the seedheads become too heavy for the stems to hold upright.