Melinis nerviglumis (Ruby grass) – A small semi-evergreen cool-season grass from S. Africa that forms a tidy 1 foot tall clump. It has blue-green foliage that turns purplish-red in the fall and showy pink flowers that rise a foot above the foliage in the spring and summer with spent flowers still attractive into winter. Best in full sun with regular water in a well-drained soil but tolerates considerable periods without irrigation and near seaside conditions. Is hardy to around 20° F and perennial in gardens in USDA Zones 8 and above but useful as an annual in colder climates. Cut back in fall to midwinter to allow fresh new foliage to emerge in early spring. A very attractive grass massed or scattered in a border planting or as a container specimen. This grass is called “one of the showiest of the small flowering grasses” by John Greenlee in his “Encyclopedia of Flowering Grasses”. Ruby Grass is native to large areas of Africa south of the Sahara and also in Madagascar. There are several interpretations for the entomology of the genus name. One thought is that it is derived from the Greek ‘melas’ meaning “black” for its black seeds but another thought is that it is from the Latin ‘mel’ meaning honey for the sweet aroma some species have. The specific epithet is in reference to the veins on the glume (flower bracts). We have grown this plant since 1997 and early on used its older name Rhynchelytrum neriglume. This same plant is marketed under the names ‘Pink Crystals’ and ‘Savannah’ and besides Ruby Grass is commonly called Bristle-leaved Red Top. It should not be confused with the related Melinis repens that has naturalized in disturbed sites along the California coast. The information on this page is based on research conducted in our nursery library and from online sources as well as from observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in the nursery’s garden and in other gardens that we have observed it in. We also will incorporate comments received from others and always appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have additional information, particularly if this information is contrary to what we have written or includes additional cultural tips that might aid others in growing Melinis nerviglumis.
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Ruby Grass Care: How To Grow Pink Crystals Ruby Grass
Ruby grass ‘Pink Crystals’ is native to Africa and recommended for use as an annual in all but United States Department of Agriculture zones 8 to 10. It has little cold tolerance but produces an elegant wave of foliage tipped with rose colored panicles in summer that develop a pearly white cast as they age. This clumping grass looks beautiful as a border, single specimen or in containers paired with other annual species. Learn how to grow Pink Crystals ruby grass for a spectacular addition to your seasonal displays.
What is Ruby Grass?
The name, ruby grass ‘Pink Crystals,’ refers to the attractive pink flower panicles that soar in airy magnificence a foot above the slender green foliage. What is ruby grass? This plant is a tropical tufting grass that is easy to grow and divide after a few seasons for more of the finely foliaged plants. Ruby grass care is minimal and the plants keep a compact habit that is perfect for the detail oriented gardener.
Ruby grass is also sold as Pink Champagne grass and was previously classified as Rhynchelytrum neriglume but now goes under the botanical name Melinis nerviglumis. The
tropical plant is a true grass in the family Poaceae, which thrives in full sun and has minimal pest or disease problems.
The leaves are classic grass blades – narrow, bluish green and several inches to a foot in length. The summer inflorescences are borne on panicles with small airy clusters of pink flowers covered in silky hairs. Flower stems rise over the entire plant in an airy rose-colored burst of color. Clumps may grow 2 feet in width and should be divided in warm regions where the plant will persist over winter. Ruby grass is winter hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 C.).
How to Grow Pink Crystals Ruby Grass
In warm climates, ruby grass may self-seed, but in most climates it is best to harvest seed in fall and save indoors until planting time. You can also divide the plant in the dormant period and pot up some new starts to overwinter indoors.
Seeds can be sown directly into prepared beds in spring after all chance of frost has passed in longer season regions. For an earlier start or for northern gardeners, sow indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. Wait until soil warms up and harden off seedlings by acclimating them for longer periods of time outdoors over the course of a week. Keep the young plants moderately moist but not soggy.
Ruby Grass Care
This Melinis is tolerant of coastal areas, deer, drought, air pollution and can even thrive near the toxic black walnut tree. The best color occurs in full sun situations but it can also perform well in dappled light.
It needs regular water but can survive brief periods of drought once established. Ruby grass has no persistent pest issues but it can develop fungal diseases if the foliage remains wet in warm weather. Water the plant from the base to prevent problems and allow the top few inches of soil to dry out.
Fertilizing is not necessary in properly amended soil.
In areas where the plant is expected to survive winter, cut back the grass in fall or late winter to allow new foliage to burst out. Divide the plants in spring, if necessary.
Ruby grass flowering.
Ruby grass, Melinus (=Rhynchelytrum) nerviglumis, is a tender perennial from southern Africa hardy only in zones 9-10, but grown as an annual ornamental in temperate areas. The common name refers to the fluffy pink plumes of flower heads produced in the fall. In Africa its common name is bristle-leaved red top.
Ruby grass forms a dense, mounded clump of foliage.
This grass small but showy grass has lush blue-green foliage that turns a purple-red in fall. The plants form dense, mounded clumps 8 to 24 inches tall. The wiry, rolled leaves grow in tufts within the clumps.
Developing inflorescence (L) and flower panicle (R).
In the summer, soft, fuzzy pink panicles about six inches long are produced on stems up to two feet tall. Peak bloom is late summer to early fall, when the clumps are covered in the pink panicles. The panicles with their glistening silky hairs often hang on the flexible culms for a very graceful effect. The flowers are an iridescent ruby-pink color at first, but as they age the inflorescences become more silvery to white. They are good in both dried and fresh cut flower arrangements. As with most grasses the flowers are wind pollinated, and the small black seed with light, fluffy appendages are scattered by wind. Seed can be collected once the plumes turn brown.
Ruby grass a good addition to beds and borders.
Ruby grass is a good addition to borders, mixed beds and can be used in containers. It combines well with many common annuals, or with other grasses. Use it in groups or singly as a textural contrast with broadleaved plants. Position it near plants with reddish foliage – such as many varieties of coleus – or pink flowers for a color echo once the panicles emerge. It is particularly effective when planted in wide swathes and fits nicely in rock gardens.
Ruby grass (upper right) with Japanese blood grass (L) and silver sage.
Plant ruby grass in full sun in any well-drained soil. It is a warm season grass that performs best in hot conditions. Although it is somewhat drought tolerant, it will perform better with consistent moisture. It is easily grown from seed and may reseed in some areas to the point of being invasive. It grows fast enough to use as an annual even in colder climates. It should be started indoors 6-8 weeks before the average last frost in those areas for best results, but can be sown directly in the garden after the last frost.
The blue-green foliage of ruby grass stands out against colorful flowers.
Clumps can be dug in the fall before the first frost and potted up to overwinter.
It was introduced commercially in the US in 1998, but is not commonly available in all areas. Some cultivars include:
- ‘Pink Champagne’ has lighter pink flowers.
- Pink Crystals™ grows 20-24 inches tall.
- ‘Savannah’ is shorter than the species, growing only a foot tall with darker pink to mauve flowers.
– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Plant of the Week: Ruby Grass
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in “Plant of the Week.” Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.
Latin: Melinis nerviglumis
GARDEN GEM — Ruby Grass is a beautiful annual grass that is at its best in late summer and fall. (University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture photo by Gerald Klingaman)
Big, bold perennial grasses have become popular in the last two decades, and their striking form makes them really stand out in the landscape scene. During this same period annual grasses have become more common in the flower garden, where their graceful form allows them to blend in with plants of a more flowery persuasion. One of the annual grasses making the rounds in recent years is ruby grass, Melinis nerviglumis.
Ruby grass is a tender perennial grass native to wide swaths of Africa, but it is also reported in areas surrounding the Indian Ocean and into warmer parts of Asia. It is a densely clumping grass with slender, erect growing, gray-green leaves that reach about 16 inches tall.
In mid- to late summer it begins sending up soft, fuzzy pink panicles about six inches long on stems up to two feet tall. Peak blooming time is late summer and early fall, when the clumps are awash in the pink panicles. As the panicles mature, they turn silvery white. The most common cultivar offered in the nursery trade is one called ‘Pink Crystals,’ whose name aptly describes the effect produced when the flower heads are backlit by the sun.
Ruby grass has been grown for a number of years in botanical gardens, but its commercial debut seems to have occurred in 1998 when Colorado State University selected it as one of their Plant Select plants. A number of commercial growers picked it up and it is now more widely available, but still far from being commonplace.
Beauty is an allure for gardeners, but today there is more awareness amongst both consumers and nurserymen about a plant’s potential for escape into the wild. Ruby grass’ fluffy windborne seed make it a candidate for going native. In September of 2009 I saw it growing at low elevations along the steep embankments of the Copper Canyon railway in north-central Mexico. Our own USDA does not list it as “escaped” in the U.S., but the potential does exist for California, Texas and Florida.
As a grass, this plant is tough and easy to grown in sunny, reasonably fertile sites. While it survives drought and stress its garden performance, as reflected by fewer blooms, suffers unless given good care. For bedding-out, plant divisions after the danger of frost is past on 18 inch centers.
Escape in most of the Continental U.S. is unlikely because ruby grass is only winter hardy from zones 9 through 11. Seed germination is sporadic and difficult in the greenhouse, so the likelihood of it reseeding in a colder area is minimal. If escape is a concern, the seed heads could be clipped off when they begin changing colors. Commercially the plant is grown from clump divisions from plants that are overwintered in a greenhouse.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist – Ornamentals
Extension News – October 30, 2009
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.