Pennisetum ‘Hameln’ versus ‘Desert Plains’

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'Desert Plains' field shot

For years, Pennisetum ‘Hameln’ has been the go-to grass for landscapers across USDA Zones 5 to 9. When it was introduced many years ago, it represented a genetic advancement over the straight species. But now there’s something even better.

Enter Pennisetum ‘Desert Plains.’ This plant, hybridized by Gary Trucks in Zone 5 Michigan, is an improvement over ‘Hameln’ in habit, fall foliage color, and flowering performance. 

Though they have similar green foliage, ‘Desert Plains’ forms a more refined looking, upright vase-shaped clump in the landscape. Whereas ‘Hameln’ has little appreciable fall color, ‘Desert Plains’ takes on shades of deep red, orange and gold.  It blends well with other fall blooming perennials such as helenium and hardy garden mums. 

One of the most obvious improvements between these two is the flowering performance. Although ‘Desert Plains’ blooms slightly later than ‘Hameln,’ ‘Desert Plains’ produces showy, 5-inch long, smoky-purple bottlebrush plumes that age to tan. The inflorescences are displayed just above the foliage. 

Comparatively, ‘Hameln’ produces relatively small 3-inch long, tan bottlebrush plumes that are stuck down in the top of the foliage or barely above.  In full bloom, ‘Desert Plains’ is about a foot taller than ‘Hamlen,’ topping out at 3 to 4 feet.  

Try growing these two side by side in the landscape and see why ‘Desert Plains’ makes an ideal pennisetum variety for today’s landscapes. 

Susan Martin is the director of marketing communications at Walters Gardens in Zeeland, Mich. She can be reached at smm@waltersgardens.com.

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