The giant china reed (Miscanthus giganteus) is a natural hybrid of silver flag grass (Miscanthus sacchariflorus) and silver china reed (Miscanthus sinensis). The impressive Chinese reed species was imported from Yokohama as early as the 1930s by the Danish botanist Aksel Olsen. Botanically the plant, also called elephant grass, belongs to the sweet grasses (Poaceae), its characteristics are similar to those of the parent species. The giant china reed is one of our most popular ornamental grasses – it is an attractive eye-catcher in the garden all year round.
This plant is called “elephant grass”, exactly as the Pennisetum purpureum and Saccharum ravennae. In this article, qe will call it “elephant grass”, but notice that we refer to the Miscanthus genus, following standard classification doctrine to avoid editorial confusion and also issues from questions coming from our readers.
Elephant grass becomes, as the name suggests, very high. The average growth height in our latitudes is 300 to 400 centimeters. The giant china reed grows upright and horny, but in contrast to the silver flag grass it does not form proliferating rhizomes. The entire habitus is expansive.
The dark green leaves of the giant china reed are band-shaped, strong and between 2.5 and 3 centimeters wide. Their arrangement is described colloquially – and very aptly – as “waterfall like” or “cascade like” overhanging. In autumn they show an attractive yellowish-brownish colouring. With the beginning of winter the elephant grass loses its leaves and only the stalks remain. These offer, especially if they are covered by hoarfrost or some snow, also in the dark season an enchanting sight.
In our latitudes, elephant grass rarely blooms because it requires a constantly warm summer. In mild regions, however, the filigree flower panicles of the giant china reed will also show up in October with a bit of luck. They are pink at first, then silvery-white in colour later and float terminal above the plant.
After flowering, the giant china reed forms the nut fruits typical of sweet grasses. In the jargon, they’re called caryopsis.
The sunnier, the better: Although elephant grass also thrives in semi-shade, it develops much better in a fully sunny place in the garden. The leaves and stalks become significantly more vital and stronger. In addition, the chances of flowers increasing here.
As far as the soil is concerned, the giant china reed is not particularly demanding and copes well with almost any garden soil. However, the elephant grass prefers a fresh to moist soil rich in humus and nutrients.
Due to the expansive habitus and the enormous size that the Giant Chinese Reed develops, it is important that you give the ornamental grass sufficient space when planting. The planting distance should be at least 100 centimeters, better still 150 centimeters. This is especially true when several elephant grasses are placed next to each other.
By the way: You can also cultivate giant china reed in the tub on the terrace. However, you will need a pot with a capacity of at least 50 litres.
Elephant grass is very easy to maintain and survives even longer dry periods without damage. Because giant china reed cuts a good figure in the garden even in winter and is also absolutely frost hardy, it is only pruned back in spring. Always wear gloves when cutting to avoid cuts through the sharp edges. Elephant grass is also a phototoxic plant, i.e. ornamental grass causes allergic reactions in the form of rashes when it comes into contact with the skin in combination with sunlight.
In this video we show you how to cut Chinese reed correctly. Credit: Production: Folkert Siemens/ Camera and Editing: Fabian Primsch
The seeds of the elephant grass are sterile. Reproduction can therefore only take place by division. The best time for this is in spring. The easiest way to divide is with a sharp spade.
In summer and autumn, the giant china reed – planted in a group – provides an airy yet opaque screen. As a solitaire, the impressive ornamental grass also attracts everyone’s attention. Many hobby gardeners also place elephant grass near garden ponds or streams, where it can be reflected in the water. In professional garden design, the giant china reed is often used as a structural plant that fills heights and provides airy abundance in the bed. Since the lower leaves of the ornamental grass turn brown in late summer and gradually die off, the giant china reed is often underplanted with asters, fat hens, water-east or other smaller grasses such as pipe grass.
However, the growing elephant grass is also cultivated commercially on a large scale as it is an important raw material supplier for biomass production and its fibres can be used for industry.
Aksel Olsen’ is a collective term for all cultivated plants that go back to the elephant grass originally introduced by the Danish botanist. However, the term is usually used synonymously for all Miscanthus x giganteus plants. The ‘Jubilar’ variety is a mutation with the same characteristics as the hybrid. However, their stems are red and their leaves yellow-green. The giant china reed ‘Gotemba’ also has yellow-green foliage and slightly lighter red stalks. This variety is only about 150 centimeters high.
Elephant grass can be multiplied in spring by division. You can find more details under the paragraph “Share”.
Diseases and pests
The giant china reed is largely spared the diseases and pests typical of our region. Even snails usually avoid the sharp-edged ornamental grass. Plants with lighter foliage tend to sunburn occasionally, rust can rarely occur.
Chinese reed in the our store-Shop
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.