True grasses belong to the Poaceae family.

Red Grasses

by Lori Norris

Grasses and grasslike plants are beautiful as well as functional additions to your landscape. Grasses soften the look of combination plantings, and when planted in groups with other grasses, create a sense of movement. Some grasslike plants resemble the habits and function of grasses and are nearly indistinguishable from true grasses, but others only resemble grasses when young and will eventually form a central stalk. Red grasses appreciate full sun or dappled shade, and may become visually lost in shady areas because of their darker colors.

Fountain Grasses

Pennisetums, or fountain grasses, are true grasses, and many varieties are planted as ornamentals. Most varieties with red foliage are from two species, fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) or Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum). Both fountain grass and Napier grass are warm weather grasses hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 10, but they're planted as annuals elsewhere. Red-leaved fountain grass varieties include "Rubrum," with purple-red foliage; "Red Riding Hood," a dwarf form of "Rubrum"; "Fireworks," with variegated red, pink and green foliage; and "Eaton Canyon," a dwarf with narrow reddish-bronze leaves. Red-leaved Pennisetum purpureum varieties include "Princess," a dwarf variety, and "Prince," a semi-dwarf variety.


Carex and Uncinia -- both sometimes listed as Carex -- are not true grasses, but sedges. They are difficult to distinguish from grasses. Carex buchananii "Red Rooster" has reddish-bronze foliage and is hardy in USDA zones 6 through 9; orange sedge (Carex testacea) bears rust colored foliage and is hardy in USDA zones 7 through 10. New Zealand red hook (Uncinia rubra) bears bronze-red foliage, while "Belinda's Find" (Uncinia rubra "Belinda's Find") is a mix of green and red foliage. Both are hardy in USDA zones 8 through 10.


New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax), hardy in USDA zones 7 through 11, is a grasslike plant with wide leaf blades and a large, dramatic presence. Some varieties bear foliage in colors such as red, reddish pink and rusty red. "Taya" and "Platt's Black" bear deep purplish-red foliage, while "Jester" and "Rainbow Sunrise" have red foliage edged in green. "Evening Glow" and "Pink Panther" both have pinkish-red foliage outlined in dark green, while "Amazing Red" has dark reddish-brown leaves.

Other Grasses or Grasslike Plants

"Red Baron" Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica "Red Baron" or "Rubra"), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9, is a true grass, and the blades are tipped in red while the base remains green. Cordyline isn't a grass, but resembles grass when it's small. It's often used in planters as a central focal point when young. With age, it will form a central trunk. "Festival Burgundy" (Cordyline x "Festival Burgundy") bears deep burgundy foliage, while "Red Sensation" bears blackish-red leaves. Both are hardy in USDA zones 8 through 11.

About the Author

Lori Norris has been writing professionally since 1998, specializing in horticulture. She has written articles for the Oregon Landscape Contractors Association, chapters of the certification manual for the Oregon Association of Nurseries and translated master gardener materials into Spanish. Norris holds a Bachelor of Arts from Linfield College.

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