Muhly grass

From a recent visit to Palo Alto’s Gamble Garden, a glimpse of a very pretty ornamental grass. Photo from the web:


This is a white variant (White Cloud) of Muhlenbergia capillaris, Muhlenbergia being the genus of muhly grasses. (Note that the common name is derived by clipping from the botanical name.)

The botanical name will take us on an adventure in U.S. history, starting in the early 18th century.

On M. capillaris, from Wikipedia:

Muhlenbergia capillaris, commonly known as the hairawn muhly, is a perennial hedge-like plant that grows to be about 30–90 cm (0.98–2.95 ft) tall and 60–90 cm (2.0–3.0 ft) wide. The plant itself includes a double layer; green leaf-like structures surround the understory, with purple-pink flowers out-growing them from the bottom up. The plant is a warm-season grass, meaning that leaves begin growth in the summer. During the summer, the leaves will stay green, but they morph during the fall to produce a more copper color. The seasonal changes also include the flowers, as they grow out during the fall and stay healthy till the end of autumn. The muhly grows along the border of roads and on plain prairies. The grass clumps into herds, causing bush-like establishments in the area that the hairawn muhly inhabits. The flowers are very feathery and add a cloudlike appearance to the top of the grass. It is native to eastern North America and can be used for a multitude of purposes including ornamental gardening and farming.

The usual pink variant:


The closely related (and very useful) M. rigens, from Wikipedia:

Muhlenbergia rigens, commonly known as Deergrass, is a warm season perennial bunchgrass found in sandy or well drained soils below 7,000 feet (2,100 m) in elevation in the Southwestern United States and parts of Mexico.

… Deergrass is characteristic of tallgrass prairie of much of the Western United States.

… The young shoots are browsed by a variety of animals, but with age the plant becomes unpalatable and is useful in an exposed garden setting for its deer resistance. It has also been used for erosion prevention and streambank stabilization because of extensive root systems. Restoration efforts currently use deergrass to displace exotic invasive annuals that dominate current grassland ecosystems as well as remediate overtilled and eroded agricultural land where they anchor loose soils and return lost organic matter.

And the genus:

Muhlenbergia is a genus of plants in the grass family. The genus is named in honor of the German-American amateur botanist Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg (1753-1815). Many of the species are known by the common name muhly [pronounced /myúli/, like “mule-y”]. The greatest number are native to the southwestern United States and Mexico, but there are also native species in Canada, Central and South America and in Asia. (Wikipedia link)

The Muhlenberg family. The botanist Gotthilf Heinrich [or Henry] Enst Muhlenberg is part of the great American Muhlenberg dynasty, which begins with Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. From Wikipedia:

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (an anglicanization of Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg) (September 6, 1711 [in Einbeck, Germany] – October 7, 1787 [in Trappe, Pennsylvania]), was a German Lutheran pastor sent to North America as a missionary, requested by Pennsylvania colonists.

Integral to the founding of the first Lutheran church body or denomination in North America, Muhlenberg is considered the patriarch of the Lutheran Church in the United States. Muhlenberg and his wife Anna Maria had a large family, several of whom had a significant impact on colonial life in North America as pastors, military officers, and politicians.

There’s Wikipedia entry for the dynasty, with a list that has the botanist Muhlenberg on it:

The Muhlenberg family created a United States political, religious, and military dynasty based in the state of Pennsylvania.

It continues to the present day; the architect Charles Henry Muhlenberg V died in 1985.

The family name is familiar to me from Berks County PA; Muhlenberg Township is not far from Spring Township, where I grew up, and it has a high school with which mine (Wilson Joint High School) was in competition. From Wikipedia:

Muhlenberg Township (pronounced “MYOO-len-burg”) is a township in Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States. The population was 19,628 at the 2010 census. Making it the third most populous municipality in Berks County after Spring Township and Exeter Township. It was named for Lutheran pastor Henry Muhlenberg, who is on the township seal.

The seal:


On this Muhlenberg (who’s also on the list), from Biographies from Historical and Biographical Annals by Morton Montgomery (link here):

Henry Augustus Muhlenberg, clergyman, Congressman, and first [U.S.] minister to Austria, was born at Lancaster, Pa., May 13, 1782 [and died on August 11, 1844]. He was the eldest son of Rev. Henry E., and grandson of Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the American ancestor of the family

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