Tokyobling's Blog

Susuki Grass – Miscanthus sinensis

Posted in Nature, Places by tokyobling on December 6, 2013

One of my favorite plants in Japan is the susuki grass (Miscanthus sinensis) which you can find growing wild just about anywhere in Japan (and many other parts of Asia), and due to eager gardeners, here and there in Europe and North America as well. The grass is very decorative and yellows beautifully in autumn, with a soft almost brush like head. There are few feelings that can match striding through a field of this beautiful grass, almost as tall as yourself.

In the old days the susuki was cultivated everywhere. Humans grew it in neat little fields near their houses in every village and villagers would take turns to harvest it and use it to thatch the roofs of everything from temples to castles to simple barns. Anything left over could be used as a simple ingredient for straw figures and as feed for the livestock. The susuki was also the perfect home for the tiny harvest mouse which in turn was preyed upon by the owls that lived near the villages.

In Japanese poetry and folk tradition there is something special about the susuki, it is thoroughly common and very plain looking yet there is a sense that we can find beauty even in something as common as this grass. I have often noted how many people stop and smile while looking at it, in parks and in the wild. Not everyone though. It can be quite tricky to control in smaller house gardens and I have had a few sad moments cutting it back when I volunteer to help friends with their gardening. For me the susuki is as essential to an elevated Japanese garden as the rock, the moss or the momiji.

The best place to see the gorgeous fields of susuki in the Kanto area is in Hakone, up until roughly Nobember. There is a guide to the sadly under appreciated art of susuki-watching here.

I found this gorgeous thicket of susuki growing on a ridge near the summit of Mount Takao a couple of weeks ago.

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11 Responses

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  1. Hangaku Gozen said, on December 6, 2013 at 5:10 am

    When I was little, I had a Japanese print hanging over my bed. It portrayed a group of rabbits sitting in a field of susuki grass as they had a little party under the full moon. I was told much later that the rabbits, susuki grass, and the harvest moon are all classic symbols of the fall in classical Japanese culture. I love seeing the feathery fronds in a garden, but as you said, they can get out of hand very quickly if a gardener doesn’t take care to keep them trimmed back. I suppose they’re best appreciated growing wild in a field, under an open sky of blue. 🙂

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  2. C said, on December 6, 2013 at 6:58 am

    Aha, that was what we saw on the Tama River the other day! (Only just two fronds of it, but so pretty during sunset with the river as a backdrop!) So it’s like a more elegant kudzu then?

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    • tokyobling said, on December 16, 2013 at 8:18 am

      Oh you saw it? Lucky! Not quite like Kudzu, it is much more “benign”, even in the worst cases. (^-^;)

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  3. yoshizen said, on December 6, 2013 at 7:10 am

    I’m very glad to hear that you like Susuki !
    Love of the Susuki is in fact the love of the air lightly shaking, passing over them or
    the light scattered by their head shaken by the passing wind.= Autumn Air !
    I never seen them in wild in this country still I found quite few places where they
    were planted hence I could come back and embrace own Japaneseness = Japanese Air.

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    • tokyobling said, on December 16, 2013 at 8:19 am

      Thank you Yoshizen! Indeed. There is actually nothing I don’t like about susuki! (^-^)

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  4. pk1154 said, on December 6, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    There is something almost magical about the way this grass interacts with light. (A popular garden cultivar is named “Morning Light.”) I’ve tried to grow it in the past, but without success.

    I love the sound of one of the English common names for it: “eulalia” which is from the Greek (= well spoken). The name may or may not have something to do with St. Eulalia.

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  5. Yousei Hime said, on December 6, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Bunya no Yasuhide

    Since ’tis by its breath
    Autumn’s leaves of grass and trees
    Riven are and waste,–
    Men may to the mountain wind
    Fitly given the name, “The Wild.”

    Bunya no Asayasu

    In the autumn fields,
    When the heedless wind blows by
    O’er the pure-white dew,
    How the myriad unstrung gems
    Everywhere are scattered round!

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    • tokyobling said, on December 16, 2013 at 8:20 am

      Poetry! I should have a poetry corner here on Tokyobling. (^-^) Thank you!

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      • Yousei Hime said, on December 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm

        That would be marvelous. I’ve been appreciating at decorative grasses in my neighborhood ever since your post.

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