Boerne Chapter

Lindheimer muhly — the NICE! grass for 2010

Author: Bill Ward

From its beginning in 2000, the Boerne Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas wanted to promote native grasses as good landscape plants. As its symbol, the chapter chose the grass commonly called inland seaoats (recently changed to broadleaf woodoats). Over the years, several grasses have been plants of the month for Operation NICE! (Natives Instead of the Common Exotics!).

Tall, bunch grass
Lindheimer muhly plumes in October sunlight. (Photo by Bill Ward)

The grass picked by the NICE! committee to be among the ten favorite plants featured during 2010 is Lindheimer muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), which is our plant for July-August. Lindheimer muhly was one of the first plants of the month after Operation NICE! was started in 2002. Some of what follows is repeated from a column that appeared in the June 4, 2002, issue of The Boerne Star.

For many people, the thought of grass in the “flower bed” is anathema. For others, any mention of grass for landscaping brings to mind pampas grass, a commonly used exotic.

However, landscapers who use natives have shown that many native grasses can be some of the most effective and easy-to-grow yard plants. Our local native grasses are especially desirable, because they are not browsed by white-tail deer and, once established, require little water and no fertilizer. More and more, both residential and commercial landscaping include native grasses.

Lindheimer muhly is a handsome gray-green bunchgrass that grows two to five feet tall. It sends up long narrow plumes in the fall, and these last through the winter. This muhly grass can be cultivated as an accent plant in much the same way as pampas grass is used.

This bunchgrass likes the calcareous soils that prevail around Beorne and seems to prefer poorly drained soils that hold a little moisture. Even where it flourishes on steep slopes, it is generally growing on or adjacent to clayey layers associated with intermittent hillside seeps. Lindheimer muhly, however, does survive long periods of drought. It thrives in full sun or part shade.

The Boerne Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas provides free planting and care instructions for Lindheimer muhly at the nurseries participating in Operation NICE! (Hill Country African Violets and Nursery, Maldonado Landscape and Nursery, and Medina Garden Nursery) as well as at Cibolo Nature Center.

This seems pretty dumb now, but many years ago when I first heard about so many grasses called “muley,” I was puzzled about that name. I’d heard of muley cattle such as polled Herefords, but not hornless grass! Needless to say, as soon as I looked up Lindheimer muhly, I could see it is in a genus named after a Mr. Muhlenberg.

Bunch grass in a flower bed of wildflowers
Bunchgrass, such as this Lindheimer muhly, provides variation in texture in flower beds. (Photo by Kathy Ward)

Gotthilf Hunrich Ernst Muhlenberg lived from 1753 to 1815. He was born into a prominent Pennsylvania family, and his father and brothers were influential patriots during the Revolutionary War. Because of his family’s involvement in the Revolution, Muhlenberg was on the British hit list.

While he was hiding out in a rural area away from Philadelphia during the Revolution, Muhlenberg became interested in botany. Through his extensive collections, Muhlenberg made major contributions to botany, and many plants have been named in his honor. For example, among our local flora are several species of muhly grass (Muhlenbergia) and Chinquapin oak (Quercus muhlenbergii).

Lindheimer muhly was named in honor of Ferdinand Lindheimer, the “Father of Texas Botany.” Many other plants native to the Texas Hill Country also bear the name “Lindheimer” or “Lindheimer’s.” Most of these plants were first collected by Lindheimer, who settled on the banks of the Comal River in New Braunfels in 1845.

Lindheimer started a German-language newspaper that endured for a century, and he made extensive botanical collections in the wilds of Central and Southeast Texas. He sent numerous specimens to his benefactor George Engelmann at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, thereby introducing Texas flora to botanical circles worldwide.

Receive the latest native plant news

Subscribe To Our News

Subscribe to emails from the Native Plant Society of Texas.

Receive emails when new posts are added 4-6 times per month, or receive an email once a month.

Or join us on social media

About the Region

New Braunfels, the location of our Fall 2024 Symposium, straddles both the Edwards Plateau Ecoregion and the Blackland Prairie ecoregion. Interstate 35 divides the city of New Braunfels; its path through the city closely parallels the boundary of these two ecoregions, with the Edwards Plateau on the west side and the Blackland Prairies region to the east. The Edwards Plateau area is also called the Hill Country; however, this general term covers a much larger area extending farther north. Spring-fed creeks are found throughout the region; deep limestone canyons, rivers, and lakes (reservoirs) are common. Ashe juniper is perhaps the most common woody species found throughout the region. Additional woody species include various species of oak, with live oak (Quercus fusiformis) being the most common. Sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) border waterways. This area is well known for its spring wildflower displays, though they may be viewed in spring, late summer, and fall, as well. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, average annual rainfall in the Edwards Plateau ranges from 15 to 34 inches.

The Blackland Prairie extends from the Red River south to San Antonio, bordered on the west by the Edwards Plateau and the Cross Timbers, and on the east by the Post Oak Savannah. Annual rainfall averages 30 to 40 inches, with higher averages to the east. This region is dominated by prairie species. The most common grass species include little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) in the uplands and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) in the riparian areas and drainages. Common herbaceous flowering plants include salvias, penstemons, and silphiums. This area has suffered greatly from overgrazing and agricultural use. Few intact areas remain, though many of the plants can be found along county roadsides throughout the region.

Our four host chapters (New Braunfels, Lindheimer, Guadalupe, and the Hill Country chapters) are located in one or both of the ecoregions above. However, the eastern portion of Guadalupe County also falls within the Post Oak Savanna ecoregion. Annual rainfall averages 35 to 45 inches, with higher averages to the east. A wide variety of hardwood trees are found, including several species of oaks, elms, and in the Bastrop area, loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). Grasses and forbs dominate in the open savannas, with most common grass being little bluestem. Ranching, agriculture, and fire suppression have allowed woody species to encroach on the once-open savannas.

Source: Wildflowers of Texas by Michael Eason