Gulf Muhly in the city
A favorite of both residential and commercial landscapers, Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) sometimes is known as pink or purple muhly because of variations in its natural color. The species name capillaris, which means hair-like, gave rise to other common names that reflect the plant’s delicacy: hair grass, or hair-awn muhly,
The genus name Muhlenbergia honors Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg (1753-1815), an American born and German-educated Lutheran pastor who returned from Germany to live in Pennsylvania. Forced to flee Philadelphia ahead of British forces during the War of Independence, he hid in the countryside, where he became interested in the plants that surrounded him. He began collecting; by 1791 he had the nucleus of his Index Flora Lancastriensis, a work containing descriptions of 454 genera and over a thousand species of both native and introduced plants.
Muhlenberg was particularly interested in the grasses, so it’s fitting that a species should be named for him. Even the plant’s common name, ‘muhly,’ points back to that early botanist.
For years, I came across the grass only in urban areas: in home gardens, parking lot dividers, and hotel landscaping. I’d occasionally see a pink fringe running down a fenceline or a small patch of pink decorating a forest’s edge, but substantial stands of the colorful grass evaded me.
This year was different. While visiting the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge in mid-October, I found rivulets of pink coursing through the land.
Light as it was, the grass bent easily before the persistent wind.
Sometimes, it mingled pleasantly with other plants, like woolly croton. Known scientifically as Croton capitatus var. lindheimeri, woolly croton is named for Ferdinand Lindheimer, commonly considered the Father of Texas Botany because of his own extensive collections. Finding the two plants nestled together was delightful.
Muhlenberg‘s grass and Lindheimer’s croton meet on the prairie
Nature planted this single bunch of especially pale pink grass in such a way that nothing obscured its beauty.
The fringes of the grass present a surprisingly different appearance.
When it comes to color, autumn Gulf muhly blooms like a spring wildflower, enlivening the landscape in a similar way.
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