A beauty or a beast? A star or a supporter? You decide.

Considered invasive in many parts of the country Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima syn. Nasella tenuissima) is merely ‘friendly’ in Seattle area gardens. Certainly it self seeds, but it does so politely creating serendipitous plant partnerships that I wish I could claim as my design!

I consider it an invaluable asset to my own garden as it fills many roles.

Four season interest.


Being evergreen this offers winter interest, when many of my other favorite grasses have tucked themselves under a blanket of compost. Whether planted as a drift with other grasses or as a simple monoculture, there is no denying that this wispy grass adds softness to the stark landscape during the colder months of the year.

Oscar worthy as supporting actor


Sometimes bolder plant forms need an ethereal background to showcase their strength. I love the way Mexican feather grass offers a hazy curtain behind my ‘Ascot Rainbow’ spurge (Euphorbia). It keeps the focus on the star with its gauzy texture allowing light to filter through.

Nominee for best actor


With so many great plants in this border (right and at top of post) how can a humble grass be taken seriously as a lead player? By virtue of it being at the very front where it creates a picture frame which in itself is a work of art. Just look how beautifully it sets the scene on this early spring day, enhancing the warm tones of the emerging spirea foliage foliage while leading the eye to the cinnamon colored peeling bark of a young paperbark maple (Acer griseum) in the middle ground and drifts of daffodils beyond.

Perfect for pathways

Guthrie 7

Grasses are wonderful for edging pathways, delicately brushing bare ankles and toes as though walking through a meadow. None are gentler than this grass and its billowing form blurs the boundary between garden border and flagstone pathway with ease.


Wildlife refuge



Tucked away behind the waving strands of grass, a flock of birds jumped and jived around this little fountain for over half an hour! Safe from view (mostly!), they played their game unhindered. I am sure the seeds would be of interest later in the year also.

Extreme contrasts


Want the ultimate plant to contrast with the grass texture and form? What about this prickly pear? You can’t get much more extreme than this!

Cultural information

USDA hardiness; 6-10

Size; 2′ tall and wide as a loose fountain

Light; full sun or light shade

Water; average to dry.


So what is this grass to you? The ultimate invasive thug to be avoided at all costs? If so I’d love to know what you have found as a great substitute?

Or has this chameleon  found a spot in your garden?

Friend or foe? You decide.

For another great design using this grass enjoy this combination featured in my new book Fine Foliage

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