|As the temperature dropped the leaves of this|
Fothergilla 'Mt. Airy' changed to this intense orange color.
One class of plants to fill that role are the native grasses. Late or warm season grasses that produce flowers and seeds in the fall are particularly effective. The low angle of the sun late in the year really plays off the seed stalks, bringing them to life. I usually leave these stalks standing through the winter to get the most out of them. I'll clean up what remains in the spring.
Another benefit of these grasses is as a food source for birds and as shelter for many insects and overwintering animals.
Here are some of the grasses I have that are showing off nicely this fall.
I have planted inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), aka, Northern sea oats and several other names, along a sloping area by the house subject to erosion. This grass produces a dense fiberous root system that holds the soil well. While its native habitat is in moist shady locations it will also tolerate dry shade. It sprouts early in the spring and can spread, both by expanding clumps and seeds, to form dense stands.
|The broad leaves of Inland Sea Oats has a bamboo-like appearance. |
These copper colored seeds will persist into winter.
|The plan is for this Pink Muhly to fill in along this fence.|
|When they open the flowers look like exploding fireworks.|
I've found this plant to be slow to establish here. Some of that has to do with competition from the surronding plants. Clumps of pink muhly will expand, but it is not an aggressive spreader. Larger masses should be mown or burned back in late winter to clean up the clump.
|Deer-tongue grass persists well into fall, here as a deeply textured mass.|
|No longer colored, the seeds of Purpletop still catch the light.|
Another common pasture grass here is purpletop (Tridens flavus). When it first blooms in late summer it has a reddish purple color. When distributed through a field, these blooms cast a purplish haze over the scene. As the seeds mature the color is lost and the seed stalk becomes a brownish-gold. As a pasture grass it is very palitable to livestock. It is also a larval host to a variety of butterflies.
I have not seen purpletop used in any designed plantings, though it does have some interesting features. The red colored flowers are best appreciated en masse and at a distance. What might be useful in a smaller garden is to use the 3-4 foot tall flower stalks as a translucent screen between plantings. Since the leaf blades are concentrated in the lower half of the plant they would not block a view across a planting. Purpletop grows well on dryish soils in part to full sunlight.