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What Is Tiger Grass?

By Anna Harrison
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By bear78 — On May 26, 2014

Aside from the right temperature, tiger grass doesn't appear to have many other requirements for growth. We have shallow soil in our area and rainfall has been strange this year, with no rain for months and then lots of rainfall for many months. Despite the circumstances, the tiger grass in our yard does not appear to be bothered and is growing happily. I am using it as a natural fence around the yard. I grew the tiger grass from rhizomes and they have adapted exceedingly well.

By burcinc — On May 26, 2014

@fify-- You are right. Tiger grass or "jharu" grass as it is known in Hindi, grows in Northeast India and is mostly used for broom making, although it can be used for other things as well. It's actually being thought of as a good idea for providing income for locals and planting tiger grass also prevents soil erosion. It's also easy to harvest and can be very profitable.

Aside from using the flowers for broom making, the stems of the grass are also very useful. It can be used as building material for various things. It can even be used to make paper.

I personally would like to see more tiger grass harvest in India and neighboring countries with hospitable climates. It can be a real asset for improving local's standards of living by providing them a profitable crop.

By fify — On May 25, 2014

I don't think tiger grass is used as much as other plants and grasses for cooking in Southeast Asia. It's not commonly used in Indian cuisine as far as I know. Banana leaves are most often used for steaming foods, particularly in South India. I think tiger grass is only used for things like broom making in parts of India they are available.

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