With its flowing fountain shape, colorful foliage, and bottlebrush plumes throughout summer and fall, purple fountain grass can add contrasting shape and texture, as well as movement in your garden. Its tall plumes rise above the clumping grass and sway in the breeze. This rapid-growing plant requires little maintenance and is deer resistant.

Photo by: John Tann.

Botanical name:

Pennisetum xadvena 'Rubrum'

Common name:

Purple fountain grass, red fountain grass

Zones:

9 and warmer (can be overwinted indoors elsewhere)

Height/Spread:

3 to 5 feet/2 to 4 feet

Exposure:

Full sun to partial shade

Soil:

Average, well-drained

Water:

Medium, consistent water throughout growing season

Color:

Burgundy-red leaves, burgundy-purple flowers in bottlebrush-like spikes

Bloom time:

July to October

Diseases and Pests:

No serious insect or disease problems.

More varieties:

'Fireworks’ has bright, variegated leaves with purple tassels and is slightly smaller than ‘Rubrum’. ‘Red Riding Hood’ (syn. ‘Eaton Canyon’) is a smaller form of ‘Rubrum’ wonderful for containers or small borders.

When to Plant:

If you are planting in the fall, do so at least a month before the average first frost.

Water:

While they will tolerate dry conditions and are quite drought resistant, purple fountain grasses will look their best with regular watering.

Pruning:

In areas where purple fountain grass is being grown as a perennial, it should be cut back to just a few inches above the ground in late winter or early spring before new growth begins to ensure a full and healthy plant. Cutting back will also decrease the fire danger as fountain grass turns brown and dry in winter and becomes extremely flammable.

Propagation:

Although some varieties of pennisetums will readily self-seed (some are considered invasive) in the warmer areas where they are grown as perennials, there are varieties such as ‘Rubrum’, ‘Purpureum’ and ‘Eaton Canyon’ that seldom set seed. However, be careful if you grow several of these cultivars together because with cross-pollination, you might get viable seed. The ordinary color of pennisetums is green, and many seedlings will not be true to the colors of your original purple fountain grass.

Purple fountain grass can provide contrasting shape and color, as well as texture and movement to flower beds. Photo by: Müller / McPhoto / Alamy Stock Photo.

Purple fountain grass makes a dramatic statement no matter where it is used:

  • Foundation plant for a larger grouping
  • Alone as a specimen
  • Accent in perennial beds and borders
  • Alone or as a centerpiece for a container
  • In a desert or rock garden
  • Ground cover
  • Median strips, parking lot borders, and erosion control

Is purple fountain grass invasive?

Formerly known as Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ (syn. ‘Cupreum’), purple fountain grass is a non-weedy hybrid cultivar of Pennisetum macrostachyum and Pennisetum setaceum. Unlike the true species, purple fountain grass seldom seeds out, and thus is not invasive.

Other colorful Pennisetum grasses to try:

  • Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’
  • Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Moudry’
  • Pennisetum purpureum ‘Prince’ (invasive in some areas of CA and the South)
  • Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Majesty’ (invasive in some areas of CA and the South)

RELATED:
Ornamental Grasses
Grasses as Container Plants

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