The cultivar ‘Variegata’ is a superior selection of purple moor grass, Molinia caerulea.

Purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea) is a perennial grass native to Eurasia and North Africa. It is a highly variable species and two subspecies are often recognized – subsp. caerulea and subsp. arundinacea – but many intermediates occur. The cultivar ‘Variegata’ is a superior ornamental selection from the caerulea group with lovely variegated foliage. This cool-season, clump-forming bunchgrass is found in moist heathland, bogs and moorland in its native habitats, and is hardy in zones 4-9.

This is a short and delicate grass compared with many commonly used ornamental grasses. Dense clumps grow 12-18″ tall, gradually getting wider over the years – but often forming a hollow center as many grasses do when mature. The coarse leaves are long, flat and taper to a point at the end.

‘Variegata’ forms dense clumps with variably striped foliage.

The foliage is striped lengthwise in green and creamy white, with considerable variation in the number and width of the stripes. In autumn the foliage turns to a burnished gold and dies back completely over the winter. The foliage and flower stalks do not hold up well, typically falling over in late fall, so it is not useful for providing winter interest like many other ornamental grasses, and can be cut to the ground once it yellows. This cultivar is often slow to emerge again in spring, so it may be helpful to mark the position of clumps so they won’t be accidentally disturbed or damaged before they come up. Any remaining foliage should be removed in spring before new leaves appear.

Airy flower spikes are produced in summer.

This is one of the latest-blooming Molinias, with airy flower spikes rising well above the foliage in mid- to late summer. The panicles have several long narrow spikelets with a slight purple tinge (often overlooked) that fade to a rich golden yellow to brown color. They are especially nice when positioned so the bronze inflorescences are backlit by the late afternoon sun. They can be used in dried arrangements, but do not hold up well over the winter as many other ornamental grasses. This cultivar does not produce seed readily, so volunteers are not a problem.

Variegated purple moor grass is great as a small specimen, in perennial or mixed beds, or even in containers. It is quite showy when planted in groups, as an accent at the front of the border, amid dwarf conifers, or along paths. With its fine texture and bright color it looks especially nice when planted near dark-foliaged plants of medium or coarse texture, such as purple-leaved Sedum ‘Bertram Anderson’ or Sambucus Black Lace™ (or other cultivars) or blue-leaved Hostas. It combines nicely with ferns and pulmonaria in lightly shaded spots, and with autumn-flowering plants, such as asters, goldenrods or helenium, that will draw attention away from the withering foliage. Since it does well in moist soil, other good companions include cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), monkshood (Aconitum sp.), and eupatoriums.

‘Variegata’ in early spring (L) and late spring (R).

M. caerulea can be slow to establish. It does best in full sun in cool climates, but needs some shade in hotter locations. It likes ample water and fertile soils. It has few pests, is not preferred by deer, and is not affected by juglone, so can be grown near black walnut trees. This slow-growing cultivar rarely needs to be divided and resents being disturbed, but it can be propagated by division in the spring just as the foliage is emerging.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Download Article as PDF

Variegated Purple Moor Grass ‘Variegata’


Ornamental Grasses and Bamboo

Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Sun Exposure:

Sun to Partial Shade


Grown for foliage

Good Fall Color

Provides Winter Interest

Foliage Color:

Unknown – Tell us


36-48 in. (90-120 cm)


18-24 in. (45-60 cm)


USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)

USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)

USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)

USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)

Where to Grow:

Unknown – Tell us


Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Color:

Medium Purple

Bloom Characteristics:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Size:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Time:

Late Spring/Early Summer

Mid Summer

Late Summer/Early Fall

Other details:

Unknown – Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)

6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)

6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

Patent Information:


Propagation Methods:

By dividing the rootball

Seed Collecting:

N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Bellevue, Washington


The Molinia caerulea ‘Variegata’ is a genus from the Poaceae family and is commonly named variegated purple moor-grass. The variegated purple moor-grass is native to Europe and Asia where it grows in moist soils.

The Molinia caerulea ‘Variegata’ is an elegant and decorative ornamental grass with bright leaves. The flower stems are green at first and then quickly turn to golden yellow. They grow upright and reach a height of about 28 inches (70 cm). De flower spikes at the end of the stems are green with purplish tones but fade to light brown rapidly.

The Molinia caerulea ‘Variegata’ is a very undemanding ornamental grass that grows almost anywhere. The variegated purple moor-grass prefers moist soils and can even survive being submerge completely in water for a period. This ornamental grass tolerates drought surprisingly well and It is also tolerant to salt. The variegated purple moor-grass prefers acidic soils. In warmer regions the Molinia caerulea ‘Variegata’ likes some shade and a bit more moist.

The variegated purple moor-grass forms a clump that slowly spreads. You can dig up the clump and divide it. It is best to do this in early spring (February/March) around the time the first leaves appear. The Molinia caerulea ‘Variegata’ is not invasive and does not spread through seed.

In fall the leaves turn yellow. The withered leaves are perfect protection against the cold for insects, frogs, toads and salamanders. So leave them during winter. In spring the new leaves will start growing. That is the time that I pull the old leaves away to make room for the new growth. Personally I prefer that to cutting. I find It easier and if you cut you may damage the new leaves.


Characteristic: newly emerging every year

Deer resistant: yes

Exposure: sun/ part shade

Foliage color: green/white

Flower color: brown

Flowering time: July – October

Hardiness: -20 ºC (-4 ºF)

Height: 16 inches (40 cm)

Soil: normal/moist

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *