What Is Purple Love Grass?
Purple love grass (ergot) is a species of flowering plant native to the Mediterranean region. It was first described in 1876 by Charles Darwin. Its scientific name is eragrostis spectabilis, which means “spectacular purple flower”. The genus name comes from the Greek word erga meaning “flower” and spectabile meaning beautiful or fair. The common names are purple heart, violet leaf, violet tree and violet star.
Purple love grass is one of the most popular ornamental flowers in many parts of the world. It grows well in moist soil and prefers full sun.
However, it does not like dry conditions so it will grow best if kept indoors during winter months. Purple love grass is often grown as a houseplant because its foliage looks very pretty when placed on a wall or window sill. The leaves are dark green with white stripes running down each side and up the center of each leaf blade. They have three leaflets, but only two are used to make the flower. The other leaflet is discarded after use.
The flowers are produced in clusters called stamens. Each cluster contains several petals and seeds, all enclosed within a thin skin around the stem of the flower.
Flowers bloom from May through August, depending upon temperature and moisture levels at the time of blooming. When they do bloom, they produce a fragrant scent that attracts pollinators such as bees and butterflies. During the winter months, purple love grass is dormant and will not bloom again until the following spring.
Purple love grass has several other names, including purple three part grass, wild millet, love grass, fountain grass, Himalayan love grass and fountain plume. It is related to our common chewing grass known as rye.
The plant has been used as a food source in parts of Africa for many hundreds of years. In ancient Egypt, purple love grass was used to make papyrus. Although it is a very old plant, its official discovery date is listed as 1876, which happens to be the same year in which it was first grown in the United Kingdom.
The etymology of the word “purple” comes from the latin “purpura”, which literally means “little purple”. The word “love” comes from the Old English word “lufe” meaning love.
The word “grass” comes from the Old English word “græs”, which also means grass.
Purple love grass is also known by several other scientific names. These include Eriagrostis corsica, eriagraste spectabilis and eragrostis spectabile.
Purple love grass is used as a food plant for grazing animals in some parts of the world. It is primarily grown for hay rather than human consumption.
The seeds are tiny and it takes a great many to make even a small amount of flour. Several Native American tribes used purple love grass as a traditional remedy for various ailments. The Zuni people of New Mexico made a corn gruel from the seeds. It was also used as an offering to the gods in ancient Egypt.
Purple love grass is grown for ornamental purposes, especially in parts of Europe and the United Kingdom. It is a very attractive plant with lovely purple flowers and feathery leaves.
It is often incorporated into wildflower gardens or grown as a lawn substitute because it stays shorter than most varieties of grass. It also has low-growing leaves that do not interfere with lawn games such as croquet and bocce ball.
Gardeners can grow purple love grass from seed. The seeds can be planted in the spring or fall, but they will not bloom until the second year.
Although this plant can grow to a height of six feet when left unattended, it can easily be kept shorter by mowing or shearing. It is not frost tolerant and should be planted where it can receive protection from cold winter winds.
Purple love grass grows best in full sun, but will tolerate part sun conditions. It prefers moist, fertile soil, but will tolerate soils of varying textures.
It is naturally found growing along riverbanks and other wet areas. Mature plants can survive short periods of flooding, but young seedlings cannot.
Although rare in the wild, purple love grass is fairly common in cultivation throughout the world. It is hardy in zones five through nine.
It can tolerate temperatures as low as twenty degrees Fahrenheit without injury and will survive occasional light frost conditions. It does not tolerate hot weather conditions and will die at temperatures above ninety degrees Fahrenheit. It should be planted in the fall if grown in zones seven through nine.
Purple love grass can be propagated by division, but should only be divided in the spring. It is not a commonly divided plant because it tends to become invasive when it is divided.
It is best used in naturalized areas or left to grow on its own. Mowing, shearing or severe pruning can keep it from spreading out of control.
Purple love grass can be infected by several different types of fungi and viruses. The most common are powdery mildew, which causes white patches on the leaves and leaf spot, which causes brown and yellow spots on the leaves.
Both types of fungi like moist conditions, especially during the summer months. These fungi can be treated with fungicidal sprays or wipes.
Sources & references used in this article:
Relative rooting depths of native grasses and amenity grasses with potential for use on roadsides in New England by RN Brown, C Percivalle, S Narkiewicz, S DeCuollo – HortScience, 2010 – journals.ashs.org
Habitat relationships of some native perennial grasses in southeastern Arizona by JH Bock, CE Bock – 1986 – repository.arizona.edu
Reseeding desert grassland ranges in southern Arizona by D Anderson, LP Hamilton, HG Reynolds… – 1953 – repository.arizona.edu
Ecology and culture of selected species useful in revegetating disturbed lands in the West by CH Wasser, JW Shoemaker – 1982 – books.google.com
Lawn people: How grasses, weeds, and chemicals make us who we are by P Robbins – 2012 – books.google.com
Arizona range grasses by RR Humphrey – 1958 – repository.arizona.edu
An annotated list of the leafhoppers (Homoptera: Cicadellidae) from tallgrass prairie of Kansas and Oklahoma by PS Cwikla, HD Blocker – Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science …, 1981 – JSTOR