SING FOR AMBER WAVES OF SEEDED GRASS: STIPA VS. Aristida
By Cassy Aoyagi: Both Stipa tenuissima and Aristide purpurea grasses provide vertical visual interest and tendrils that will wave in a breeze. In addition, both actually perform without much water.
Curious as to how Stipa earned its seat on the [wet-to-dry] exchange? A clue: Stipa’s seeds place it in the same category as Pennisetum and Pampass grasses – invasives that are nothing but trouble!
Blondes do not always have more fun! This sweet grass, native to areas throughout California, has a lot of Stipa-like characteristics. Unlike Stipia, Aristida purpurea does not increase fire danger, supports wildlife and will maintain its place. As an exchange, Aristida has some distinctive charms:
Provides the same height and texture. Aristida is a very light and airy textured grass that reaches the same height as Stipa, with a narrow and upright form.
Pops with PURPLE seed heads. What could be prettier! When in seed, Aristida purpurea takes on some of the “blonde” colored qualities as the Stipa, but the contrast of the purple seed heads is glorious. It won’t get as thick as a Stipa, but you can counter that by planting more clumps of it to make your point.
Attracts birds. Aristida sings!
Holds its looks in the long term. Very low water, Aristida purpurea grass will look its best during the warm seasons, but being a perennial, will hold its own year round.
Is hassle-free. It may enjoy your admiration, but it won’t require much attention – just a little cut back toward the end of summer.
Pair Aristada with companions and materials that will not overwhelm it and with colors that will contrast nicely against it, like, Festuca idahoensis,Carex tumilicola, Carex glauca or Artemisia ‘Canyon Grey’ or ‘Davids Choice‘.
Stipa Tenuissima, Mexican Feather Grass
Stipa tenuissima, local to areas all over the US has a blonde color and fine texture matched by no other grass, making it eye-catching and highly desirable from an aesthetic perspective. One aspect of that fine texture is the multiplicity of seeds that the grass produces. If not for the terribly invasive nature of its seeds, this grass would have a big thumbs up. Unfortunately, Stipa, like other invasives:
Create fire danger. While they outperform natives during the good times, invasives tend to dry up when the going gets tough. The more invasives we have in our hills, the more we exacerbate the fire, flood, slide cycle.
Can’t stay put. By definition, an invasive is a wanderer that will quickly leave its spot in the garden to explore the rest of your landscape… and California hillsides.
Repel wildlife. Invasives often outperform the native foliage, leaving native species of wildlife bereft of sustenance and shelter.