Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wildflower Wednesday: Bottlebrush Grass

I love the swaying movement of ornamental grasses in a garden, but, don't have the space to support them in the sunnier parts of my garden, instead I use Bottlebrush Grass, a wild grass of the open forests and woods.
Elymus hystrix is a graceful ornamental grass that I only noticed about six years ago. It just appeared in my garden, a gift on the wind and I have loved it ever since. It's hard not to appreciate any plant, especially a grass that actually prefers the shade and is tolerant of dry soil.
While other ornamental native grasses are barely showing life, cool season Bottlebrush Grass is green and beginning to sway in the garden. It's a grass with medium green coloring and an interesting loose structure.  It's not at all like Panicums or River Oats that command a lot of space in your garden, in fact, I find the loose structure makes it a perfect grass to fit into a smaller space....perfect for jam packed gardens.
I use it very much like others use "see through" perennials and annuals
As a grass it's really nothing to get overly excited about until the greenish, bristly flower heads that resemble old fashioned bottle brushes begin to form. They rise above the foliage in early June (here) and are one of the grasses most attractive features. I find the tall seed heads (topping out at 5 feet) and loose structure make it an ideal candidate to use as a see through plant! It's a win-win, the garden gets a much needed grass presence without a heavy grass blocking light to other plants.
They tolerate sunny gardens, too.
Bottlebrush Grass works beautifully in my garden. The tall swaying seed heads provide texture, interest, movement and a change of pace from most ornamental grasses.
Elymus hystrix is an easy plant that tolerates shade, dry soil, does not spread aggressively and has beautiful seed heads that mature to a warm brown and persist until late fall. It will grow beautifully under deciduous trees (including Black walnut) and you can expect it to grow 3 to 5 feet tall. Don't worry if you can only find seed sources, this is a grass that will grow quite well from seed. It can be found growing naturally in the Eastern half of North America including the prairie states down to Oklahoma.
See the spider waiting for dinner
Like other native grasses, Bottlebrush grass has good wildlife value, it provides cover for birds, insects and small mammals and is a host for the caterpillars of the Northern Pearly Eye butterfly and several moths. I think it's a good candidate for a pollinator garden, especially in shady conditions.
The seed heads persist till the fall and are easy to collect for scattering to other parts of the garden
If you're looking for a good plant that shines in dry shade~this is it! You can take my word for it!


Welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not; and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky and stop by the gardens of the other wildflower enthusiast!

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. I am always looking for plants that thrive in dry shade. Hmmmm I will have to look into getting this one. I like those little seed heads.

    1. They are really good looking and you won't be disappointed in the beautiful fall color.

  2. Beautiful!
    They add such a delicate loveliness to the garden.
    Thanks for hosting Wildflower Wednesday.
    Have a wonderful day!
    Lea's Menagerie

  3. Very pretty and airy! Lovely photos, too.

  4. The Bottlebrush Grass is very airy and delicate interesting to read about. This month I am featuring Tellima grandiflora, Fringecups.

  5. A "see-through" plant is the perfect way to describe these airy looking seedheads. They certainly set off the rest of your garden!

    Wildflower Wednesday has snuck up on me once again:)

  6. I love our bottlebrush grass in our woods! I haven't yet tried to transplant or seed it in my flowerbeds, but after seeing your pictures, I just might give it a try!!
    I didn't realize it was a cool-season grass. So that explains why it begins to turn brown in late June! It is a wonderful contrast to all the green and I love its airy heads dancing in the slightest breeze.

  7. Gail I have something similar wild growing in my meadow and was unsure of what it was. I will have to check it out. Love the free flowing nature of this grass...thanks for sharing it!

  8. It's lovely and airy, Gail! I'll have consider it, since my garden is mostly very shaded. Thanks! And thanks for hosting!

  9. It looks quite beautiful in your garden and it is good to know it is good for wildlife too.

  10. What a lovely grass it is, dear Gail! You have captured it beautifully, and to think it just showed up in your garden. Ah, the wonders of nature...

  11. Under appreciated grass that we have growing behind our house on a slope in the driest conditions at the woods edge. I had no idea it was a host plant, you always teach me something. Thanks Gail for shining a spotlight on a wonderful easy breezy subject.

  12. Your wild grasses are lovely. We also have many wild grasses in the back fourty, but if I were to let them into my flower beds they would completely take over in a season. The bottle brush is very attractive and I do grow a cultivated variety. Any secrets in how you keep them under control?

  13. It is a lovely grass. In my garden, though, it tends to be short lived.

  14. That is a beautiful grass and indeed a gift. I'd like to find something like that in my yard. Great photo with the bottle tree, really shows the form of the seed heads.

  15. That is a lovely grass, and as always, I enjoyed your photography. I love how you placed the glass bottle tree behind the grass. The spider and web are cool, and I always like it when your chairs are in a scene. I think I saw some Grayhead coneflower and Joe Pye weed. I'll have to go see your post on how many flowers you have.

  16. I don't think I've ever seen this grass before. I wonder if it is hardy in our climate? I'm writing about a old-timey garden flower that is becoming invasive in some areas.

  17. A very pretty grass to add texture and movement.

  18. Such a pretty grass Gail. It's growing in our garden now, along with several other native grasses started from seeds Monica sent me last year. Looking forward to seeing the seed heads here - they're so delicate and pretty in your garden. I may have to make sure some of those seeds make soil contact since Jason and I are in the same area. I'd like to have bottlebrush grass hang around here awhile.

  19. Beautiful photos! I've come to appreciate native grasses more in the past couple of years. This would be a great addition to my collection! - I also love the fact that it can tolerate shade. Thank for the info :)

  20. That is lovely and what a bonus it just appeared. I love ornamental grasses, I have 3 kinds in my garden, need to get a few more.

  21. I dearly love the seed heads of grasses, whether it be in a garden or in the wild. Bottlebrush grass is a really pretty one, but I have almost no shade here to keep it happy. But I am enjoying my new Karley Rose pennisetum and Karl Forester reed grass in bloom. Hopefully we'll soon see the new Morning Light maiden grass in bloom!

  22. It's taken me awhile, but I finally have a post up--better late than never, I guess!


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson