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Japan's Miscanthus grasslands

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Identification & Description of Miscanthus

In the United States there are two species, Miscanthus sinensis and Miscanthus sacchariflorus, that are of concern in being weedy or invading natural areas. Their differences are described below.

Miscanthus sinensis

Miscanthus saccariflorus

  • bunch grass
  • hairs = spikelet
  • awns on florets
  • firmer flowers in many colors
  • many foliage colors
  • August-October flowering
  • aggressive rhizomes
  • hairs = 2x spikelet
  • no awns
  • white soft flowers
  • only green foliage
  • August-early September flowering
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sinensis diagram
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Native Habitat

Miscanthus is native to Japan, the Philippines, India, East Asia, Malaysia and Polynesia. It is a common plant in Japan, often growing along roadsides and disturbed places throughout much of the country. At higher elevations, 3,000’-4,500’, Miscanthus occurs in semi-natural grasslands where it is maintained by mowing or burning. It grows on a variety of soil types, including acidic, well-drained, and nutrient-poor soils. Several other species of Miscanthus are common in Japan, Taiwan, and other parts of southeast Asia; additional species are native to southern Africa.

Plant Description

Andersson (1855) first described Miscanthus. The botanical name originates from the Greek words: mischis (pedicel) and anthos (flower), which refer to the stalked or pedicellate spikelets.

Miscanthus sinensis has tall reed- or cane-like plants, usually 1-2 meters, or 4-7 feet, tall; leaf blades are usually broad, 30-60 cm long, 8-12 mm wide, and sometimes narrow, flat, and rolled in the bud. Fringed membranous ligule, 1-2 mm long. Bisexual spikelets, usually all alike. Inflorescence open, with large fan shaped branches, persistent thorough the winter, 20-30 cm or more. Spikelets paired, on pedicels of unequal length surrounded by numerous silky hairs, 4 mm long. Glumes more or less equal, awnless. Lemmas usually bearing a twisted, geniculate awn about 4 mm long (M. sacchariflorus is awnless); palea conspicuous but relatively short and awnless. Stamens 2-3, stigmas 2. Miscanthus flowers in the fall, August through September and October, and persists through the winter. For a detailed description, see Watson and Dallwitz (1992); and Ohwi's Flora of Japan (1964) for detailed descriptions among species.

There are twenty species in this genus, some of which can form intergeneric hybrids with Saccharum (sugar cane). M. floridulus is a significant weed species in warm climates (Watson and Dallwitz, 1992). The genus is recognized as having 14 species (Hodkinson et al., 1997), with interspecific hybridization being common and giving rise to many sterile hybrids (Scally et al., 2001). Miscanthus is naturalized throughout much of Europe, and in tropical and subtropical areas it is generally considered to be a weed of disturbed areas (Scally et al., 2001).

 

Fact Sheet

Use this link for a two-page printable fact sheet on Miscanthus.

Literature Cited

Andersson, N. J. 1855. Om de med Saccharum beslägtade genera. Öfvers Kungl. Vet. Adad. Förh. Stockholm, 12:151-168.

Hodkinson, T. R., S. A. Renvioze, and M. W. Chase. 1997. Systematics of Miscanthus p189-97. In: M. J. Bullard et al. (ed.) Biomass and Bioenergy crops. Aspects of Biology 49. Assoc. of App. Biolo. Warwick, UK.

Ohwi, J. 1964. Flora of Japan. Smithsonian Inst. Washington, D. C.

Scally, L., T. Hodkinson, and M. B. Jones. 2001. Origins and taxonomy of Miscanthus, p.1-9. In: M. B. Jones and M. Walsh (eds.). Miscanthus for energy and fibre. James & James, UK.

Watson, L., and M. J. Dallwitz. 1992 onwards. Grass Genera of the World: Descriptions, illustrations, identification, and information retrieval; including synonyms, morphology, anatomy, physiology, phytochemistry, cytology, classification, pathogens, world and local distribution, and references. http://biodiversity.uno.edu/delta/. version: 18th August 1999.