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Pennisetum setaceum Tender Fountain Grass

Edward F. Gilman


Fountain grass is an ornamental grass that is used in the landscape for its fine-textured foliage and showy flowers. Some catalogues refer to the plant as Pennisetum rupelii. The leaves of this 3- to 4-foot-tall plant are narrow, curving, linear blades with a beautiful light green cast. The light purple to pink colored inflorescence of fountain grass sits atop a hollow, 3-foot-long, nodding flower stalk. Flowers appear almost white in bright light. The feathery inflorescence is 12 inches long and occurs from early summer to frost. The fruits of this grass are small seeds that volunteer to form small plantlets nearby; this plant is considered mildly invasive if planted near undisturbed natural areas. The invasive habit is likely to be much less a problem in an urban landscape.

General Information

Scientific name: Pennisetum setaceum
Pronunciation: pen-niss-SEE-tum set-TAY-see-um
Common name(s): fountain grass, tender fountain grass
Family: Gramineae
Plant type: ornamental grass; herbaceous
USDA hardiness zones: 8 through 10 (Figure 1)
Planting month for zone 8: year round
Planting month for zone 9: year round
Planting month for zone 10 : year round
Origin: not native to North America
Uses: mass planting; container or above-ground planter; accent; border; cut flowers
Availability: generally available in many areas within its hardiness range
Figure 1. Shaded area represents potential planting range.
Figure 1.  Shaded area represents potential planting range.



Height: 4 to 6 feet
Spread: 2 to 4 feet
Plant habit: upright
Plant density: moderate
Growth rate: fast
Texture: fine


Leaf arrangement: most emerge from the soil, usually without a stem
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: linear
Leaf venation: parallel
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: 18 to 36 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: brown or tan
Fall characteristic: showy


Flower color: white
Flower characteristic: summer flowering; fall flowering


Fruit shape: unknown
Fruit length: unknown
Fruit cover: unknown
Fruit color: unknown
Fruit characteristic: inconspicuous and not showy

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: typically multi-trunked or clumping stems
Current year stem/twig color: not applicable
Current year stem/twig thickness: not applicable


Light requirement: plant grows in full sun
Soil tolerances: acidic; slightly alkaline; sand; loam; clay
Drought tolerance: moderate
Soil salt tolerances: unknown
Plant spacing: 36 to 60 inches


Roots: not applicable
Winter interest: no special winter interest
Outstanding plant: plant has outstanding ornamental features and could be planted more
Invasive potential: potentially invasive
Pest resistance: no serious pests are normally seen on the plant

Use and Management

Fountain grass is a valuable accent or specimen plant that may be used around a fountain for the cooling silhouette it presents. This plant is also lovely when planted in mass, and it makes a nice accent in a border. Flowers can be cut for fresh arrangements but they fall apart as they dry, making them unsuited for dry arrangements.

Fountain grass should be planted on a well-drained site that is exposed to full sun. Plants grow poorly in the partial shade and droop over. This grass is grown as a perennial in most of Florida (zones 8 through 10) but is an annual in cooler climates. Foliage will die back in north Florida in winter, but will reappear in spring if the winter is mild. It is only moderately drought tolerant.

The cultivar 'Rubrum', also know as `Cupreum', has reddish foliage and flowers. 'Rubrum Dwarf' grows 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall.

Pests and Diseases

No pests or diseases are of major concern.

Publication #FPS463

Date: 8/27/2015

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About this Publication

This document is FPS463, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 1999. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.

About the Authors

Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


  • Gail Hansen de Chapman