Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens)
Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) is native to much of California. Some sources say that it is forage for deer but other sources suggest that deer actually avoid it. Not being a deer expert, I can’t really say what is true and what isn’t. However, I do know that this well-behaved, non-invasive perennial prefers sandy or well-draining soils and needs full sun to thrive. It flourishes even in difficult spots that are exposed to reflected heat.
Deer grass is anything but rare here in the Sacramento Valley. It is often planted in public places (for example the parking lot of the West Sacramento IKEA store where it elevates what would otherwise be a pretty dreary concrete landscape) and looks stunning in mass plantings or combined with finer-textured grasses like Mexican feather grass (Nasella tenuissima).
Each plant can form a rather sizable clump up to 5 ft. wide by 2-4 ft. high, with the flower spikes reaching another 2 ft. above the clump. It must have enough space to achieve its full potential. I often see it in residential landscapes where it looks lost, crammed into a planting bed with other perennials. That is the very reason why I haven’t introduced deer grass into our garden: We simply don’t have the room to dedicate to it. However, if we had acreage, I’d create an area with nothing but ornamental grasses, and deer grass would feature very prominently.
In the meantime, I enjoy this majestic, if coarse, grass wherever I come across it, such as today at the Sundial Bridge in Redding, CA. (I’ll write a separate post about the Sundial Bridge later this week.)
Deer grass has excellent drought tolerance and is therefore well suited to a dry garden. It is native to USDA hardiness zones 7-10 but it may do well in colder climates as well.
Deer grass is available at most nurseries in our area. If you have the space and love ornamental grasses or minimalist landscapes, give this one a try!