Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 828 Nassella tenuissima

Common Names: Mexican feather grass, Mexican needle grass Family: Poaceae (grass Family)

Mexican needle grass
The Mexican needle grass's delicate fine texture belie its toughness and drought tolerance.


Mexican feather grass is a graceful and delicate very fine textured ornamental grass. It grows in a dense fountainlike clump with slender, wiry culms 1-2 ft (0.3-0.6 m) tall. [A culm is the technical term for the jointed stem of a grass plant.] The leaves are 6-14 in (15.2-35.6 cm) long. They are rolled inward very tightly so that they appear as thin wiry filaments. The inflorescence is a silvery soft nodding panicle 6-12 in (15.2-30.5 cm) tall on a wiry stalk that stands above the leaves. [A panicle is a flower cluster in which the flowers are borne on branched stalks coming off the main axis.] Each flower within the panicle is adorned with a slender bristlelike awn, 2-3 in (5.1-7.6 cm) long. These long appendages add to the beauty and airiness of this lovely grass. Mexican feather grass blooms in late spring with a greenish flower cluster which persists well into fall as it ripens to golden brown. 'Pony Tails' is a selection noted for its abundant and very showy panicles.


Mexican feather grass, Nassella tenuissima, occurs naturally on rocky slopes, dry open woods and dry prairies from New Mexico and Texas south through central Mexico.


Mexican feather grass is easy to grow as long as the soil has excellent drainage. Light: Full sun to partial shade. Moisture: Mexican feather grass is highly drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 11. Mexican feather grass will stay green in winter, but go dormant during the heat of the summer. Propagation: Mexican feather grass is usually propagated from seed. Large, well established plants may be divided, but this is not always successful.


Mexican feather grass is one of the finest textured of the ornamental grasses. Its hairlike foliage moves with the slightest breeze. Use it in rock gardens and as an accent to plants with a bolder texture. Mexican feather grass has a tendency to self sow, and therefore is well suited to the naturalized meadow. The silky flower clusters, with their long showy awns, add interest and softness to dried arrangements.


Most of the feather or needle grasses are valuable forage grasses in their native range. They are classified as cool season grasses because most of their growth occurs during the cooler months. They go dormant during the hot, bone-dry summers in their native range. (Note that most of our ornamental grasses are warm season grasses.) Nassella was formerly included within the genus Stipa.


Mexican feather grass often self sows abundantly and may spread out of its designated place in the garden. It's best to plant this one where you don't mind its invasive tendency.

Steve Christman 10/16/00; updated 1/29/04

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Nassella species profiled on Floridata:

Nassella tenuissima

( Mexican feather grass, Mexican needle grass )

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