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Plant of the Month: Oplismenus hirtellus

Dragon Fly Basket Grass

‘Dragon Fly’ Basket Grass

Latin name: Oplismenus hirtellus ‘Dragon Fly’
Common Name: Basket Grass
Family: Poaceae
Origin: Southern Europe and Asia
Plant type: annual
Flowers: not important
Foliage: variegated foliage of pink, green and cream
Mature height: 3”-6” tall with a 2’ spread 
Hardiness: annual in Zones 4-9;
perennial in Zones 10-11
Soil: Well-drained
Exposure: shade to light sun 
Water usage: medium
Sources: mail order / retail

Every gardener out there has a favorite group of plants or a favorite place in the garden. Mine, personally, has always been shade gardens! I love the dark, cool spaces that, grown thick with vegetation, make me think of mystical mushrooms and soggy mosses. Unfortunately, here at the Dallas Arboretum, we have a harder time finding that perfect shade plant that will tolerate our soils. I frequently see visitors to the gardens perusing the trial gardens in search of the next best shade plant. Well, I have one! Granted, it is an annual in the northern parts of Texas, but what a great little annual it is!

Basket grass or Oplismenus hirtellus ‘Dragon Fly’ from Proven Winners is classified as a grass, yes, but it’s beautiful! Its small, 2-inch-long, lance-shaped, bamboo-like leaves are variegated in hues of mint green, cream and pink. This spreading plant will grow 3 to 6 inches tall and, for us, it has actually spread to 10 feet across!  That was just one plant! This vigor is due to the plant’s ability to root at each node that touches the soil, which makes this plant an excellent groundcover. The genus name Oplismenus is a derivative of the Greek word hoplismos, which means weapon — a reference to the awn of the seed, the hair-like structure protruding from the floret, which resembles a small spear.

A nice attribute of ‘Dragon Fly’ is that even though it is extremely vigorous, it won’t grow over and “eat” other plants — provided the plants are taller than 6 to 10 inches! Its bright coloring will lighten dark areas of your garden and provide an excellent contrast with such plants as spiderlilies (Hymenocalis), elephant ears (Colocasia), lilies, ferns, and azaleas. If you don’t need a groundcover but have a lot of containers in your shade garden, this plant makes an excellent trailing addition to a basket or ceramic pot.

Since Oplismenus is native to tropical climates, it is best planted in late May or early June so that the heat can give it that extra boost. The soil should be well-drained. Once established, the plant can handle some drought. You’ll need to prune this plant only if you want to keep it out of other areas of your garden. It is very easy to just pull back and cut. 

Oplismenus hirtellus ‘Dragon Fly’ may not be available in retail stores just yet, but it should be an easy find on the Internet. Since it is a grass, it is shipped with ease, with little to no damage to the plant.