The Difference Between Porcupine Grass & Zebra Grass

by Daniel Thompson

Decorative grasses add year-round color and elegance to your yard with colorful displays of waving foliage. Porcupine grass (Miscanthus sinensis “Strictus”) and zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis “Zebrinus”) are large ornamental grasses with similar growth habits and markings. Porcupine grass is slightly more tolerant of cold weather found in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 to 9, while zebra grass grows in USDA zones 5 to 9. Although these grasses share common traits, they offer subtle variations in size, appearance and form.

1. Form

Miscanthus is a clumping ornamental grass that grows in erect, fan-shaped bunches. Porcupine grass typically grows 6 to 8 feet in height from clumps that spread out 6 to 8 feet at their base. Zebra grass typically grows slightly lower to the ground than porcupine grass, reaching heights of 6 to 7 feet. While porcupine grass has relatively stiff blades that remain upright, zebra grass tends to droop towards the ground. Zebra grass often occupies more room than its counterpart since it spreads 5 to 10 feet from the base.

2. Appearance

Long blades of grass with bright yellow stripes running horizontally at irregular intervals are the signature of zebra and porcupine grass. The flexibility of zebra grass is readily apparent when it begins waving during a gentle breeze. The downside to the flexible stalks of zebra grass is that they often begin to droop after reaching their full size. Strong winds or heavy rain can often leave clumps of zebra grass looking bedraggled until they can recover some of their form. Porcupine and zebra grass develop long drooping flowers that emerge during the summer and remain on the plant through the winter. These flowers have a pink or silvery coloring that turns light-brown as the weather grows cooler in the fall.

3. Growth Habits

Plantings of zebra or porcupine grass can spread aggressively beyond where they are initially planted. The older foliage of these varieties remains through the winter and into the spring. If you do not cut down the old foliage from last year, it often obscures the fresh green growth that arises during the spring. Mowing down stands of miscanthus before the spring growing season begins, leaves room for fresh growth. Porcupine grass is well-suited to areas that are partially shaded during the day and areas that get full exposure to the sun. Zebra grass is less tolerant of shaded areas, and it should only be grown where it can get full exposure to the sun throughout the day.

4. Considerations

Suitable soil for porcupine grass and zebra grass is a well-drained soil rich in organic loam. Zebra grass is more tolerant of dry growing conditions than porcupine grass and is best suited for sunny areas that receive less irrigation. Porcupine grass is more tolerant of shady growing conditions, and it can tolerate being submerged in several inches of standing water, but it is less tolerant of drought than zebra grass.