Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 78 Pennisetum setaceum

Common Names: African fountain grass, tender fountain grass, fountain grass, purple fountain grass Family: Poaceae (grass Family)

In cooler Zones where it is not hardy, showy fountain grass is grown as an annual in beds and borders.


Fountain grass is a very showy ornamental grass with graceful, arching leaves, and erect or nodding rose-colored flower spikes up to 12 in (30.5 cm) long. Fountain grass grows in dense, symmetrical clumps that can get 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) tall and 2-3 ft (0.6-0.9 m) across with a fountain of feathery plumes flowing out of the foliage.

'Cupreum' has reddish stems and leaves, and copper-colored plumes. 'Rubrum' and 'Purpureum' are larger, to 5 ft (1.5 m) tall, with dark purple leaves and burgundy-red, nodding plumes to 15 in (38.1 cm) long. 'Eaton Canyon' is a miniature, to 30 in (76 cm) high, with burgundy-red foliage and plumes. These cultivars generally do not set seed, and therefore are good choices for tropical and subtropical climates where the species could become invasive.

Rubrum, red fountain grass
Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' has deep burgundy foliage and fuzzy rose flower plumes.


Fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum, is native to open, scrubby habitats in tropical Africa, the Middle East and SW Asia. It has escaped cultivation and become established in parts of Australia, California and southern Florida.


Fountain grass is a decorative yet durable ornamental grass that needs virtually no care once established. It is tolerant of high temperatures, high humidity, high wind, drought, and acidic to alkaline soils, and is pest-free. Light: Full sun. Tolerates partial shade. Moisture: Extremely drought tolerant. Established plants thrive in climates with less than 20' of rain annually. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. Fountain grass is a perennial in USDA Zones 8-11, but is often grown as an annual and started from seed each year in cooler climates. It can also be dug up and brought inside during winter. Even in warm climates, fountain grass will turn brown and die back in winter. Propagation: Fountain grass, the species, is propagated from seed and it will self-sow in warm climates. Most of the cultivars do not produce seeds; they are propagated by dividing the root clumps.
Rubrum, red fountain grass
Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' has deep burgundy foliage and fuzzy rose flower plumes.


Fountain grass makes a dramatic statement anywhere in the landscape. Use it as a foundation plant, a specimen, in a group, or in a border. It fits in a desert garden or a rock garden or a low-maintenance area. It makes a striking accent in perennial beds. It can be used as a ground cover. It's good for median strips, parking lot borders and erosion control.


Fountain grass plumes are highly favored in both fresh and dried floral arrangements. There are a number of fountain grasses that are grown as garden plants including Chinese fountain grass (P. alopecuroides) and oriental fountain grass (P. orientale).


Fountain grass is listed among the "most invasive widespread wildland pest plants" in California by the California Exotic Pest Plant Council. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council lists fountain grass as a category II exotic, defined as an invasive plant that has increased in abundance or frequency but has not yet altered Florida plant communities to the extent shown by Category I species. These species may become Category I if ecological damage is demonstrated." Fountain grass turns brown and dry in winter and becomes extremely flammable. Dense stands of it are a fire hazard.

Steve Christman 2/9/01; updated 3/19/04, 12/14/04, 10/31/06

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Pennisetum species profiled on Floridata:

Pennisetum alopecuroides

( Chinese fountain grass, fountain grass, Chinese pennisetum, swamp foxtail )

Pennisetum macrostachyum

( fountain grass , giant burgundy fountain grass, burgundy giant fountain grass )

Pennisetum orientale

( oriental fountain grass, fountain grass )

Pennisetum setaceum

( African fountain grass, tender fountain grass, fountain grass, purple fountain grass )

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