Hakonechloa macra (Japanese forest grass, hakone grass) is a species of flowering plant in the family Poaceae, subfamily Arundinoideae, native to Japan. It is the only species in the monotypic genus Hakonechloa. It and its cultivars are used as foliage plants in gardens in temperate climates.
It is a small, mostly shade-loving, clump-forming, slowly spreading plant. The stalks cascade in a graceful rounded fountain shape somewhat reminiscent of Pennisetum (fountain grass) but with the actual foliage resembling Chasmanthium (The flowers are NOT similar). These grasses are notable for their texture and their colors as well as their general ease of maintenance. The leaves are thin and papery and resemble many forms of bamboo. They are very flexible and have a distinctive rustling sound when the wind blows that adds to their appeal. The foliage rises from the roots on thin wiry stalks, and the flowers bloom in midsummer from leaf nodes near the ends of the stalks. The flowers are light purple fading to tan then dropping off over the course of several weeks. The leaf blades are green but many color variations exist. The papery texture keeps the foliage cool to the touch and often the surface is slightly puckered or rippled. The cultivars may be boldly variegated in stripes of white, green, or yellow, or have solid colored leaves. Some cultivars tend to turn orange or red in colder weather. The species tends to be between 45 cm and 60 cm (18" to 24") with cultivars often growing significantly shorter. The height may be somewhat dependent on soil moisture, nutrients, and length of growing season, though the plant is tough enough to survive in USDA Zone 5 (-20°F). It prefers even moisture and average humidity but can tolerate minor dry spells, and arid climates with minimal damage.
It is mainly used as an ornamental grass in Japanese style gardens, or to brighten shady areas of the garden. The graceful form tends to soften formal shady areas as well. Solid green leaves are the hallmark of the species. The green form is the fastest grower and tends to be slightly larger than most cultivars, and is mildly sun tolerant though it may burn if not given adequate shade. The foliage tends to be deep bright green and may have orange, red or purple tones to some degree in the fall.
Solid foliage color variations:
- H. macra 'All Gold' This solid color variety has leaves that range from pale yellow to gold to deep lime green depending on sun exposure. The more sun the brighter the yellow tends to be. Too much sun will cause scorching. Plants in full shade will tend to be much greener and may be difficult to distinguish from H. macra .
- H. macra 'Beni-Kaze' The leaves of Beni-Kaze, (Japanese for Red Wind) are green throughout most of the growing season but as cool weather approaches red pigments flush into the leaves turning them bright red to reddish-purple in autumn. It averages 18" to 30" in height.
- H. macra 'Nicolas' Developed in France by Olivier Bennato Chez, this cultivar is basically a dwarf version of Beni-Kaze, only reaching 15 cm (about 6") or 23 cm (9") in bloom (according to the US patent. This information is not cited by most sellers of this plant who state greater average heights, although my professional growing experience verifies the patent info). The cool season color varies from orange to red shades and is most pronounced in autumn.
Variegated foliage variations:
- H. macra 'Aureola' This is the most common variegated cultivar. The foliage is striped bright gold and apple green, with gold predominating which may tend toward pink in autumn. Height averages between 10" and 14". This cultivar was the 2009 Perennial Plant Association's pick for Plant of the Year. Additionally, the Royal Horticultural Society have given this cultivar their prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
- H. macra 'Sunny Delight' This variety is a reversal of the variegation of 'Aureola'. The majority of the leaf is green with narrow yellow stripes and jetting toward the base of the blade giving it a much darker look than 'Aureola'. Height averages 12"-14". It is one of the more vigorous forms, as the variegation makes up less of the leaf area than many variegated forms.
- H. macra 'Albostriata' This cultivar is green with cream to pure white stripes along the leaves. Foliage variegation is similar to 'Sunny Delight'. The variegation shows little to no yellow and may blush pink in spring and in autumn, though it looks mostly green from a distance. This is one of the more vigorous variegated cultivars. Height averages 12" to 18".
- H. macra 'Fubuki' One of the slowest and smallest varieties available, this grass is a reverse variegation of 'Albostriata'. The foliage of 'Fubuki' (or Blizzard in Japanese) is almost completely white with sparse green stripes and jetting. Like many nearly white plants, this cultivar is not very vigorous however it can be stunning in the landscape. It will burn in high light, and prefers a cool shady location. 'Fubuki' usually maxes out at about 6" to 10".
- H. macra 'Naomi' This dwarf cultivar was discovered in the same French trial gardens as 'Nicolas'. The foliage is similar to 'Aureola' with cream to yellow variegation but the fall color is deep reddish purple.
- H. macra 'Stripe It Rich' This cultivar is a yellow and white variegated variety, essentially a variegated form of 'All Gold'. The foliage varies from lime green to yellow with white stripes and jetting. This is currently (2012) the most recently discovered cultivar. It averages about 6" tall.
Hakonechloa can be easily propagated by division. The rootball has many stalks coming up from a dense rhizomatous cluster of roots. Apparent on the rhizome are small buds that look like thorns. These are new shoots and with care they can be removed from the root cluster with a small segment of rhizome taking care to include connected roots. When planted and properly cared for, the grass will root and spread to form a clonal selection of the grass. Horticultural tissue culture may also be utilized by propagators with the appropriate equipment.
- Platt, Karen "Gold Fever" descriptions of gold or yellow leaved Hakonechloa http://www.karenplatt.co.uk/garden-books/gold-fever.html
- "Hakonechloa macra AGM". RHS Plant Finder. Royal Horticultural Society. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
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