Both cultivars of a grass native to Asia, zebra grass and porcupine grass are similar in size and leaf colouration, but they have markedly different growth habits. The two grasses are representatives of a species of grass that has more cultivars than any other landscape grass, and both make excellent specimen or screen plantings.
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Commonly called maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis is one of the most popular of garden grasses, with more than 40 cultivars available. It is a perennial grass that is generally hardy to USDA Zone 5, although some varieties require warmer climates. Cultivars vary in size from 3 feet tall for dwarf varieties to 15 feet for the largest varieties; the majority of cultivars reach 4-8 feet in height. All varieties prefer full to partial sun and well drained soil.
Miscanthus sinensis "Strictus," commonly known as porcupine grass is a cultivar of maiden grass that grows in dense clumps to 7-8 feet in height. Its leaves are 3/8-inch wide and green with yellow (or sometimes purplish) bands. The grass has an upright habit and tends to remain standing through the winter. It is hardy to zone 5 and may be able to tolerate even colder climates. It is tolerant of poor soils and can also withstand moderate drought conditions.
Micanthus sinensis "Zebrinus," or zebra grass, is similar in size and form to porcupine grass, and its leaves have a similar banded pattern, although its bands can range from yellow to a creamy white. The flower stalks it produces in the fall may stand as high as two feet above the leaves, and the flower heads are pink or silver spikes. Zebra grass has a more arching habit than porcupine grass, and while porcupine grass stands up to wind and weather, zebra grass may require staking to avoid falling over in the winter.
The cultivar "Little Nicky" is a dwarf zebra grass that grows to three feet in height. "Variegatus" is a cultivar similar in size to zebra grass and porcupine grass but with even more showy leaf variegation. Like zebra grass, it tends to fall over, but improved cultivars such as "Cabaret," "Cosmopolitan" and "Silver Arrow" have the more upright habit of porcupine grass.
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