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What Time is it in Nature: Purple Muhly Grass

October 11, 2013

Early fall is the best time to see one of Prairie Ridge’s most showy grasses, Purple Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris).  This bushy, purple grass is common along the road near the entrance to Prairie Ridge and is featured in and around our Nature Neighborhood Garden.

Purple Muhly Grass

Purple Muhly Grass is a perennial, bushy grass native to the eastern US.  In summer, it grows green stems up to 3 feet tall with a 3 foot spread and sports alternating, simple leaves.  The grass remains green through the summer, but when the seasons change and the weather cools, Purple Muhly Grass flowers and the whole external appearance of the plant changes.  The flowers grow and engulf the green stems and leaves with coppery purple blooms, giving the whole plant an ethereal purple or pink appearance.

In part because of its showy fall foliage, the Purple Muhly Grass is popular as an ornamental grass.  It is hardy in warm and wet regions of the US, including North Carolina, and is tolerant of drought, deer, and shade.  It is also used in land reclamation projects due to its hardiness.  In wild settings, it is most commonly found along roads and on prairie lands.  However, it has also been overproduced as a forage crop, leading to its elimination from several parts of its native range, especially in the northeast.  It is considered endangered in Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, and New Jersey and has likely been completely eliminated in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Apart from its attractive appearance and popularity as an ornamental grass, Purple Muhly Grass is also important to a variety of wildlife.  It is used as in important shelter or nesting site for some species of birds and mammals.  It is also highly attractive to several species of ladybugs that help control pests in areas where Purple Muhly Grass is planted or naturally occurs.

You can’t miss the Purple Muhly Grass on the Prairie Ridge side of Gold Star Drive now!  Just look for the delicate looking tufts of purple grass.  For an up close look at this beautiful species, head on down to the Nature Neighborhood Garden or the wind turbine for some fine examples.  Now that the weather’s cooled down, it’s a great time to take advantage of the sights at Prairie Ridge, so we hope you’ll come see us soon!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Musuem’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Photos by Chris Goforth)

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