From University of Florida (UF), Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences
For the green thumbs and garden-dreamers alike, every month we'll highlight a UF / IFAS feature plant that deserves a spotlight in Florida-friendly gardening.
Elliot's lovegrass with its straw-colored inflorescences.
Photo: Wendy Wilber, UF/IFAS
Lovegrass is the common name for two species: Elliot’s lovegrass (Eragrostis elliottii) and purple lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis).
Hundreds of members of Eragrostis are found worldwide; thirty species are established in Florida alone. The genus name these species share comes from two Greek roots: eros, meaning love, and agrostis, meaning grass. Nathaniel Wolf, the scientist who gave this genus its appealing name, published no explanation for his choice. We think it’s safe to assume, though, that he found them just as loveable as we do.
In the Sunshine State, lovegrass grows wild in flatwoods, sandhills, and prairies. As native species these are excellent choices for a wildlife-friendly landscape. They need not be confined to wild spaces, however. Both species make excellent borders and accent plants and are very attractive in massed plantings.
Purple lovegrass and Elliot’s lovegrass grow in tufted clumps with stiff, arching leaves. Both species remain fairly small, reaching only 1-3 feet in height. In USDA Hardiness Zone 8A and further south they are perennials, coming back year after year.
Flowers typically appear on lovegrass in the fall, between October and November. Purple lovegrass’ flowers are a distinctive purple, while Elliot’s lovegrass flowers are tan or gray cast. The delicate, wispy blooms catch the dew and resemble a tinted mist above the foliage, softening harsher landscape lines. Both species form inconspicuous fruits after flowering.
Purple lovegrass has light purple inforescences, giving it a misty appearance.
Photo: Lisa Sanderson, UF/IFAS
Lovegrasses grow quickly and prefer hot and dry site conditions. They perform best in full sun, but both can tolerate partial shade as well. Plant lovegrass anytime during the growing season, watering regularly for a couple of weeks until the plant is well established.
Both species tolerate a range of soil conditions but do best in sandy soils. Neither tolerates salt well but otherwise they are very hardy once established. Even in droughts lovegrass shouldn’t require any extra irrigation. Both grasses are good for erosion control, and can be planted on steep slopes and in other difficult areas in the landscape.
As is true of most grasses, lovegrass is dormant in the winter. If you plan to divide a clump it is best to do so at this time. To prune, cut lovegrass back to a few inches above the ground. This is best done at the end of the dormant season, just before the first flush of growth. The clump will come back again in the spring, green and fresh.
For questions about lovegrass and other native species, please contact us at your county Extension office.
Apopka UF/ IFAS Location
UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research & Education Center
Apopka, FL 32703
Hours: Every Tuesday 1pm - 4pm, excluding holidays
Orlando, FL 32812