Ornamental Millet (Pennisetum)
Ornamental millets (Pennisetum glaucum) have been on my radar for over 16 years when the variety ‘Purple Majesty’ won an All-America Selections (AAS) award in 2003. This maroon-leaved selection was first noticed in Nebraska by Dr. David Andrews (a grain breeder) from the University of Nebraska and he was encouraged to introduce this exciting millet by the late Harlan Hamernik (Bluebird Nursery) and the rest is history. We’ve used ‘Purple Majesty’ every year since then and have ultimately used all of the other varieties seen in this blog (‘Purple Baron’, ‘Jester’, ‘Copper Prince’ and ‘Jade Princess’) over the years as they have been introduced. Keep in mind that the height on select varieties differs and should be taken in to account when placing them in the garden or container. The photo at the top of the blog shows an awesome use of ‘Jade Princess’ (seen further below as well) at Cantigny Gardens (Wheaton, IL, USA) a couple years ago.
This species of millet (Pennisetum glaucum) is called pearl millet and is the most widely grown millet in the world with records dating back to 2000 B.C. Thought to be native to Africa, this annual grass is now grown far and wide as a food source and entered cultivation in the United States in 1850. The grass is tough in hot summers, in soils with low fertility, high salinity and/or a low pH making this a very durable grain. In lieu of my scattered knowledge on this plant, do check out the wonderful article by Dr. Susan Mahr (UW-Madison) regarding ornamental pearl millets at https://wimastergardener.org/article/ornamental-millet-pennisetum-glaucum/ . She does a fabulous job describing the history and use of this plant although there are some newer selections out there now and I’ll likely be using all of these ornamental forms for many years to come! The photo directly above is from The Gardens at Ball (West Chicago, IL, USA)
‘Copper Prince’ above and three below
‘Purple Baron’ (above and four below)
‘Purple Baron’ (above) floating throughout pink flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sp.)
‘Jester’ (above and two below)
not my photo above
‘Purple Majesty’ (above and five below)
wind pollinated flowers (above) form seeds (grain) below (great for birds!)
‘Jade Princess’ (only 2′ tall!) seen above and many times below!
some used of ‘Purple Majesty’ (above and all below) at RBG