Tiger grass is a perennial, clumping grass that is native to Southeast Asia, where it is often used as a food wrap. It’s botanical name is Thysanolaena maxima, and it looks similar to bamboo and sugarcane. Very easy to grow, tiger grass is one of the most commonly cultivated grasses. It is a beautiful plant, but it can grow very tall if not kept pruned.
This perennial grass grows from a rhizome, which is similar to a bulb or corm. It quickly forms a large clump of broad, variegated leaves that can reach up to 12 feet (2.7 m) tall and much as 6 feet (1.8 m) in width. Attractive long plumes of tiny purple flowers appear in late summer or fall.
Tiger grass will grow in either full sun or partial shade and requires rich soil and plenty of water. It is sensitive to cold and prefers humid tropical climates. Though it will not survive freezing winter weather, the tiger grass rhizome can be dug up and stored in a cool, dry place until spring, and then replanted in the ground when the soil has warmed.
Like many other ornamental grasses, tiger grass can become too large, and has the potential to overtake even a large garden. Frequent pruning will keep it at a manageable height. The rhizomes can also be divided to create several smaller plants, though they can be difficult to dig up. A sharp, pointed shovel works best for this task.
The large size of these plants make them a good choice for privacy screens around yards and pools. A tiger grass hedge can be allowed to grow to full size to create an attractive tall border along property lines. They can also be good container plants if grown in large, sturdy pots and watered frequently. Plants kept in containers tend to be smaller than those planted in the garden.
While ornamental grasses can be found in larger garden centers or nurseries, they are more commonly available through mail order catalogs or online. This type of grass is often sold as a small potted plant, but can also be purchased as a bare rhizome. Both of these should be planted in the ground or a large pot as soon as possible and watered thoroughly. Fertilizer can be added before the tiger grass is planted to promote healthy growth.
Tiger grass has a variety of uses. It is found in Korean cooking where it is used as a wrap for foods for steaming or grilling. The sturdy stalks can also be cut to use as garden stakes for tomatoes or tall flowering plants. Brooms are made from these plants; the bamboo-like stalks make strong handles and the dried flower panicles are tied together to make the broom parts.