Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (Black Mondo Grass) – A slow growing evergreen perennial with black grass-like leaves. It can grow to 8 inches tall by 1 foot wide with individual leaves 10 inches long and less than 1/4 inch wide with new growth very dark green towards the base of the leaves and darkening towards the tips to become one the blackest plants that we know of. Clusters of spikes on which whitish lilac flowers appear in summer and are often followed by dark, nearly black berries in fall. Best in part sun or light shade, with regular watering. Hardy at least to USDA Zone 6a (-10°F) Great for a groundcover or in containers – very slow growing. According to the International Liriope and Ophiopogon Cultivar Register this plant should not be called by by the Latinized cultivars names ‘Nigrescens’ or ‘Arabicus’ since the naming conventions set down in The International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP) prohibited this use for any cultivar name use after 1958. The name the is International Liriope and Ophiopogon Cultivar Register recommends be used is Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Kokuryu’ it was introduced into cultivation in the US from Japan under the name Liriope ‘Kokuryu’ by R.E Perdue of the USDA in 1959 who obtained it from Nakada Nursery in Angyo, Japan but there is a certain amount of disagreement about the correct name for the plant. Some consider the species Ophiopogon planiscapus to naturally have black foliage and simply list this plant as a species. It is also sometimes listed as ‘Black Dragon’, ‘Ebony Knight’ or ‘Arabicus’. The oldest name we have found in usage in is Ophiopogon arabicus as a plant accessioned by the Huntington Botanic Garden in 1956 that came from Jimmy Giridlian’s Oakhurst Garden but this illegitimate use of “arabicus” as a specific name likely disqualifies it as a cultivar name. The cultivar name ‘Nigrescens’ however was used for another plant the Huntington received from Oakhurst Garden in 1957, accessioned as HBG#25997, which would have been before the ICNCP 1958 ruling prohibiting the use of Latinized names. In the 1976 Hortus III: A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada, compiled by the Liberty Hyde Baily Hortorium at Cornell University, this plant is listed as Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Arabicus’ but in the 1994 Index of Garden Plants by The Royal Horticultural Society it is listed as Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’. We also have a thin smaller leaf form that we call Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Teague’s Black’. The information on this page is based on research conducted in our nursery library and from online sources as well as from observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in the nursery’s garden and in other gardens that we have observed it in. We also will incorporate comments received from others and always appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have additional information, particularly if this information is contrary to what we have written or includes additional cultural tips that might aid others in growing Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’.

Kew Species Profiles

General Description

Despite its grass-like leaves, lilyturf is actually a member of the asparagus family (Asparagaceae). The specific epithet planiscapus means ‘flattened scape’ and refers to the flattened flower-stalk of this species.

The cultivar Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (also known as black lilyturf, black grass or black mondo grass) has blackish leaves and is a popular ornamental. This small but striking plant is often grown against a contrasting light background such as gravel or silvery foliage.

Species Profile Geography and distribution

Ophiopogon planiscapus is native to central and southern Japan.

Description

Overview: An evergreen, clump-forming perennial with dense tufts of leaves growing from short rhizomes (underground stems).

Leaves: Grass-like, strap-shaped, deep green, 30-50 cm long and 4-6 mm wide.

Fruits: Round, fleshy, dull blue and 3-5 mm wide.

Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’: This cultivar has arching, blackish leaves, 20-30 cm long and small, purplish flowers followed by glossy, blackish fruits.

Uses

Lilyturf is a useful plant for providing ground cover and is also planted for erosion control.

The cultivar Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ is a popular ornamental that is grown for its dense tufts of blackish, grass-like leaves. The Royal Horticultural Society has given Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ its prestigious Award of Garden Merit.

This species at Kew

Lilyturf can be seen growing in the Winter Garden at Wakehurst.

Pressed and dried specimens of Ophiopogon planiscapus are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details of some other species of Ophiopogon , including some images, can be seen online in Kew’s Herbarium Catalogue.

Distribution Japan Ecology Woods and thickets in lowlands and foothills. Conservation Not assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria. Hazards

None known.

Plant of the Week: Mondo, Black Grass

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in “Plant of the Week.” Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

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Black Mondo Grass
Latin: Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’

Black mondo grass is an easy-to-grow, black-leafed plant that can create an interesting “goth” look in your garden. (Photo courtesy Gerald Klingaman)

Johnny Cash, the Arkansas native nicknamed “the man in black”, probably got lots of suggestions during his life from fans regarding cool black-colored things he might like that are usually seen in other colors. Were I to have been asked to recommend plants for his garden, one would have most assuredly been black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’).

Mondo grasses and liriope species are closely related – in fact, so closely related that botanists have coined the term “liriopogon” as a catch-all term to describe them. Both are staples of gardens of the southeastern states, including Arkansas. Both genera are grass-like plants that eventually form thick sod and share a common range of distribution in southern China, Japan and in wide swaths of Southeast Asia. Long considered a member of the lily family, they are now separated out into the ruscus family.

Liriope is the larger of the two genera, with plants usually over a foot in height with broader leaves, while Ophiopogons usually are less than a foot tall, with leaves half the width of Liriope. Flowers too are different, with Liriope flower scapes held above the foliage, while Ophiopogon bloom scapes are mostly hidden in the foliage.

Black mondo grass is a 6- to 12-inch tall stemless evergreen groundcover that produces purple-black to black leaves that are one-quarter of an inch wide. Plants are shorter and more nearly black when grown in full sun. The lower leaf surface is usually lighter in color, and often purplish black in color. Quarter-inch wide, nodding pink to whitish-purple flowers appear in late summer on arched scapes. Berries are bluish black.

While all of the 54 species of Ophiopogons that have been described spread by expansion of the underground stolons, the rate of spread varies considerably. The most frequently cultivated mondo grass, Ophiopogon japonicus, spreads quickly and will soon form thick, impenetrable mats. The spread of black mondo grass is on the other end of the spectrum, and incredibly slow. It is not uncommon for clumps to require three years before they show their first signs of enlargement. This slow rate of growth makes them expensive to buy, and not terribly practical as a groundcover plant.

In the wild, O. planiscapus is green-leaved like any respectable plant. The black-leafed selection is from a Japanese clone called ‘Ebknizam’ that has been given the trade name “Ebony Knight”. It is unclear if the cultivars sold as ‘Arabicus’ and ‘Nigrescens’ are selections of this one clone, or slightly different variations. According to Tony Avent, the North Carolina nurseryman, these black-leafed forms were first introduced by a California nursery in 1960. Typically, plants are propagated by division, but the black-leafed characteristic does come true from seed, so some variation in form can be expected.

Using black mondo grass in the garden must take into account its slow growth rate and strong potential to startle the visitor. Combining the striking black leaves with yellow-leaved plants would create a strong contrast. While it will grow in the shade, its black leaves tend to make it disappear in low-light situations. Black mondo grass is hardy in zones 6 through 10. It should be planted in a rich organic soil and kept watered during dry weather. It is an easy-to-grow plant, just very, very slow.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Retired Extension Horticulturist – Ornamentals
Extension News – February 24, 2012

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.

Black Mondo Grass

or… Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘nigrescens’, or… Black lilyturf


Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’

There are 101 different uses for the Black mondo grass:

  1. Edging patios.
  2. Edging paths.
  3. Under planting within containers.
  4. Low ground cover.
  5. Hmm….?

Anyway the point is, Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ is a versatile little plant with an extremely awkward name. This plant is actually a member of the lily family and not a grass. A particularly good feature of this plant is that it does not go through a messy phase. Most evergreens shed their old leaves annually causing a mess and looking temporarily scruffy. Not so with the Black mondo grass. It appears to retain its shiny, almost black leaves continuously. Any die back is almost imperceptible.

Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ is a tough plant, tolerating drought and other temporary hardships. It does not thrive on neglect however. To get the most out of this plant, a moist, well drained soil, in full or partial sun will see this plant slowly but surely make significant headway. It spreads mainly by means of underground runners but will also self seed.

The main draw back of this plant is its speed of growth. This unfortunately is reflected in the price. Luckily there is a cheap and easy method of propagation.

Growing Black mondo grass from seeds


Un-ripe seeds

The first step is to harvest your Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ seeds. Make sure they are completely black (dark purple). Check this by turning the seed pods over. In this example the seeds still show some signs of green. Leave them on the plant a bit longer. In the garden featured on this website the seeds are usually ripe around the end of October/ early November


Harvest ready for processing

Allowing the seed pods to ripen fully makes them easier to peel. It also makes them more attractive to birds, so pay attention or you may find your plants stripped of seeds. If this happens you will just have to wait until next year. You may have friends who have this plant growing in their garden. Ask them if you can nick a few seeds. This is a useful source in the early years of growing this plant.


The teaspoon method of seed retrieval

Once harvested, your Black mondo grass seeds need to be peeled. One method is to simply squeeze the seeds between thumb and forefinger. After about 20 seeds, this method becomes quite painful. So for large numbers of seeds, a teaspoon is a useful tool.


Industrial scale seed retrieval

Set up a production line.


Washed and ready to go

Once squashed, the pulp can be removed and the seeds washed. They are then soaked for a couple of days, undergoing regular water changes, in the vain hope that this will speed up germination times.


Seeds awaiting burial

The Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ seeds then need to be planted. Seed trays are ideal for large numbers. They can planted in modular cells but for large numbers you will need lots of space. The seeds also take an eternity to germinate and individual cells will be more likely to dry out.

Seeds should be planted about 2cms apart (just under an inch). There is no need to sterilise the soil or use fungicides. Just make sure you use nice fresh compost. Once the sees are planted, cover them with a layer of compost and water them.

The trays are best covered with a clear plastic lid to prevent the soil drying out. The seed trays are then placed out of the way under the greenhouse bench. A cool room indoors works just as well. If you have a cold frame, stick them in there. Outdoors is also fine but cover them with chicken wire to dissuade curious squirrels.

Wait for a very long time….


Newly germinated plants

In this instance the seeds were planted in late November and began appearing throughout May. Seed trays left outside in garden took a further month to germinate. Germination times indoors are reduced slightly but the risk of forgetting about them and then the seed trays drying out are higher.

You can expect germination rates close to 100% so long as the trays never dry out. What you will get is about 75% Black plants and 25% Green. Throw the green ones away.

The plants are best left in their trays until the following spring. Plant them out in rich soil about 5cms apart. Water well and your Black mondo grass will soon establish and begin to spread by means of runners.

Growing Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ is a long term project, but before you know it, you can have hundreds of plants to put in any number of places. The plants in the picture at the top of the page were 4 years old when the picture was taken.

Black Mondo Grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’: Dark Diva

Yes, Halloween is near. Yes, this plant is scary. Thankfully black mondo grass does not lurk under beds or wield sharp knives, or even creep around gardens scaring small woodland creatures. Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ is, however, scarily beautiful—when perfectly contrasted with well-chosen plants.

Please keep reading to learn how to use this dark beauty:

Above: A dry-stack basalt stone wall and stone staircase create a garden bed for a sculptural tree, underplanted with black mondo grass. See more in Rehab Diary: A Garden Makeover for a Ranch-Style House in Oregon.

Erroneously, I once thought that black mondo grass was a grass. But despite the appearance of the word “grass” in its common name and the fact that the leaves look like blades of grass, mondo grass is in the Ruscaceae family (just like other chameleons such as Liriope and Carex).

Above: Black mondo grass plays beautifully against purple or pink foliage. Photograph by Meredith Swinehart.

Black mondo grass has evergreen, tufty charm. With its exotic, modern-looking, fine-bladed texture, you can use black mondo grass as you would low ornamental grasses in your garden and containers—for its textural appeal, ground cover abilities, and relaxed nature.

Above: Black mondo grass, rootbound. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

Now to the scary part. Black mondo grass is, of course, an adherent to the classic Halloween- dark- toned theme. But outside of this holiday season, you can use its dark delights to add a supreme color contrast hit, especially when the truly deep black blades are paired with chartreuse colored plants such as Heuchera ‘Lime Rickey’, scotch moss, or sedum angelina. When thinking of what to pair it with, think lighter tones and bright contrasting colors.

Above: Black mondo grass has a demure, delicate flower. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

Cheat Sheet

  • As are most grass and grass-like plants, black mondo grass is deerproof.
  • Produces lavender flowers in the summer that are cute for small arrangements; black mondo grass also has purple berries in the fall.
  • Black mondo grass is a theatrical choice for the front of borders, containers , edging, ground cover, woodland, and modern Asian/Zen gardens.

Above: A black mondo grass mash-up; a Black Mondo Grass Kokedama is £50 from Kojo.

Keep It Alive

  • Plant black mondo grass in rich, well-draining soil, and space 3″ apart for a quicker spread if using as a ground cover.
  • Sun is a conflicting issue. In hot areas plant in part sun, in Northern climates plant in full sun. Tip: too much shade fades its notable blackness.
  • Provide consistent moisture and more in extreme heat.
  • Clumps to 6 inches tall and wide. Not a fast spreader.
  • For a tidy look, remove old ratty leaves in the spring before new blades emerge.

N.B: Gearing up for a garden makeover? Delve into our Hardscape 101: Design Guides. They will take you through planning, designing, and planting your new garden. What plants should you use? See:

  • Perennials 101: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design
  • If you like the idea ground covers with tufting clumps, consider Fescue 101 and Lilyturf 101 as options.

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow and care for various grasses with our Grasses: A Field Guide.

Additionally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for black mondo grass with our Black Mondo Grass: A Field Guide.

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various perennial plants with our Perennials: A Field Guide.

Additionally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various ground cover plants with our Ground Covers: A Field Guide.

Essential Tips on How to Care for Black Mondo Grass

As the name rightly suggests, black mondo grass has purplish-black leaves, and is highly valued for ornamental purposes. Take a look at this article for some information about growing this plant.

If you are looking for a unique plant that can be grown as a ground cover, or for edging purposes, then black mondo grass can be one of the ideal options. They are commonly used as ornamental plants in rock gardens and landscapes. Like liriope plants, black mondo grass is also deer resistant and hardy in nature. The distinguishing feature of this plant is the glossy purplish-black leaves that resemble grass blades in looks. They stay glossy throughout the year. Being non-messy, black mondo grass is easy to grow.

The characteristic feature of black mondo grass is its blackish leaves. However, the color may not be that pronounced in young plants that may sometimes have green leaves too. The black color develops as the leaves grow. They are evergreen perennials that grow from rhizomes. This plant is found to grow in round clumps, with a maximum height of around eight to ten inches, and a spread of twelve inches. The leaves develop in tufts, from which flower racemes emerge. The flowers of black mondo grass are usually whitish or lilac in color. As in case of the leaves, the fruits too are bluish black.

Would you like to write for us? Well, we’re looking for good writers who want to spread the word. Get in touch with us and we’ll talk…

Let’s Work Together!

One of the advantages of these plants is that they retain the glossy black color throughout the year. This is more applicable for those in warmer areas, but in colder regions, the condition of the foliage may deteriorate during winter.

Preparing Soil: This plant requires well-drained soil, which is acidic and rich in decomposed organic matter. You may plant them at locations that provide them with full sun or partial shade. Prepare the soil by tilling and adding some compost. You may also add a small amount of slow release fertilizer. If you want to plant black mondo grass in containers, use a good quality potting mix with good drainage.

Planting: Once done with soil preparation, make holes that can accommodate the root ball of the grass. If there are more than one, keep a distance of at least eight to ten inches between them. Plant black mondo grass, and water the soil thoroughly. The soil should be kept moist, till the plants get established.

Watering: As black mondo grass is said to be resistant to drought, regular watering is not required. However, during growing season, you have to water them thoroughly, once a week.

You may remove those dead leaves from the plant, but avoid cutting them in whole, as it takes quite some time for them to regrow. Some people resort to mulching during fall. Black mondo grass propagation is usually done by separating the young plants that develop from the roots. Even the seeds can be used for this purpose. Another advantage of this plant is that it is resistant to pests and diseases.

To summarize, black mondo grass can be a wonderful addition to your garden or landscape. Growing them is also easy, as compared to some of other plants that can be messy, and require a lot of care.

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