Picture the driest, sandiest spot in your yard. Now picture it covered by a low pink cloud. That’s purple love grass. Though the name suggests it’s a hybrid from Prince’s private greenhouse, it’s actually just a ridiculously beautiful grass that grows wild on poor soil throughout the eastern half of North America, from Canada to Mexico. If your problem spot is covered in gravel, or near a street that gets sprinkled with road salt six months out of the year, purple love grass can solve your problem in a classy, yet slightly disco kind of way.
The pink cloud thing happens in July and August, when thousands of miniscule flowers appear on petite stalks. About the same time, the narrow green leaves turn reddish-bronze. Pair it with other early fall stars like black-eyed Susans, chrysanthemums, and asters. After the flowers come the tiny seeds, which attract birds. Love grass is also a host plant for many butterfly species, including the Zabulon Skipper (Poanes zabulon).
Common name: Purple love grass
Botanical name: Eragrostis spectabilis
Plant type: Ornamental grass
Zones: 5 to 9
Height: 1 to 2 feet
- Sun: full sun
- Soil: sandy loam is ideal; tolerates poor soil, sand, juglone, and road salt
- Moisture: dry to medium; drought-tolerant
- Mulch: none needed
- Pruning: none needed
- Fertilizer: none needed
Pests and diseases
- Not attractive to deer
- Generally disease-free, though rust, smut, and tar spot may occasionally appear
- Perhaps the reason we love love grass is that it thrives in hot, dry conditions where lesser plants fry. Sand, gravel, road salt—love grass loves it.
- Love grass is also good for controlling erosion, and it won’t colonize your entire property, since it tends to spread slowly.
- Another trick this grass has in its tough love repertoire: it can handle juglone—the toxin that black walnut trees add to the ground. So if your understory is looking a bit shabby, try jazzing it up with some pink clouds.
All in the family
- There are about 250 species of love grass. The genus Eragrostis is in Poaceae, the grass family. Other grasses in this family include wheat, Rice, barley, bamboo, and millet.
- Other native North American species include sand love grass (E. trichodes) and plains love grass (E. intermedia). Weeping love grass (E. curvula) is an introduced species used for reclamation.
- Another relative, E. tef, is cultivated in Africa and used to make the Ethiopian bread injera. Teff is also grown in India and Australia, and in small quantities in the U.S. It’s becoming popular here because of its nutritional benefits: it’s high in calcium and protein and is considered a gluten-free grain.