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Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007

IN BLOOM

Ogi (Miscanthus; Japanese or silver plume grass)


Nothing whatsoever Remains of you in this grass We once used to tread; How long ago it was we came — The garden now is a wilderness.

By Fujiwara no Yasusue, from the 12th-century poetry anthology "Shinkokinshu," translated by Donald Keene in "Anthology of Japanese Literature (Grove Press)

Since ancient times, plume grass has evoked the beautiful, silvery melancholy of autumn. In the above lament the poet describes how the carefully tended garden of yore has become an ogiwara, literally, a "field of plume grass." There are about 15 species of miscanthus grasses native to China, Japan and Southeast Asia. Some cluster as reeds by the waterside while others thrive in dry uplands. The most familiar species in Japan is probably susuki (Miscanthus sinensis), one of the "seven flowers of autumn." But its big brother ogi (M. sacchariflorus) is also a very handsome plant. This grass forms a dense clump of canes about 2.5m high, bearing flower plumes that are longer and thicker than those of susuki. When Oriental pampas grasses were first taken to Europe, they were grown as garden ornamentals. However, there is now widespread interest in growing the plants for their biofuel potential. The dry canes of the giant miscanthus (M. x giganteus) can supplement traditional fuel for coal-fired power stations — but unlike coal, the plants are clean, green and friendly to wildlife.



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