Scientific: Muhlenbergia rigens
Common: deer grass
Origin: Dispersed widely over the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico between 2,500 and 7,000 feet, California Valleys west of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Pronounciation: Muh-len-BER-gee-a RIG-ens
Landscape Use: Best planted in groups as an accent for bank covers, rock gardens, transitional landscapes. Best used when viewed from a distance.
Form & Character: Light, breezy, airy (large bunch grass plants suggests movement of air), has a psychological cooling, and a softening effect in the landscape.
Growth Habit: Perennial bunch grass clumping to 3 to 5 feet in height with equal spread.
Foliage/Texture: Dense tufts of narrow, linear dull gray-green leaves from 1.5- to 6-feet long (1/8-inch wide), slightly wider than M. capillaris; fine texture.
Flowers & Fruits: Erect whip-like flower spike panicles to 3 feet, florets light brown. Seeds extremely small, ie. 2.5 million per pound.
Seasonal Color: Flowering during late summer and autumn.
Light: Full sun
Soil: Well drained preferred, but will grow in about any soil type.
Watering: Weekly to bi-weekly deep irrigations in summer will keep plants robust.
Pruning: Shear (only once per year in late winter) or burn to the ground in late winter or early spring to remove the copius production of thatch (dead and slow to decompose leaves because of the dry climate) and re-induce vigor. Be careful, fire can be very dangerous! Make sure to check local laws and regulations before burning outdoors.
Propagation: Division anytime, seed in fall and early winter.
Disease and Pests: None in central Arizona, though air-borne fungi infect foliage in moister climates.
Additional comments: Deer grass is a medium-sized popular bunch grass plant that has found a landscape niche as a substitute for the invasive Pennisetum setaceum. Deer grass is larger, more vigorous and less refined than M. capillaris. Its ultimate larger size in Phoenix landscapes surprises most and leads to the obligatory 'cue ball haircut' several times a year by 'hort clods', eventually causing death.