Ophiopogon (Mondo or Monkey grass) has a petite stature, but when used in mass plantings or monosweeps can easily enhance gargantuan counterparts. However, the plants people of the Bloedel Reserve used Black Mondo Grass on either side of a walkway welcoming me through an Asian-type bower. Monkey grass is a sod-forming, herbaceous perennial plant. Derived from Greek ophis, “snake”, and pogon, “beard”, there is some conjecture as to whether this refers to the leaves or its flower spike. Mondo’s epithet refers to
Often confused with Liriope muscari (Lilyturf), the leaves of mondo grass are narrower with blue fruits as compared to the black fruits of Liriope. Mondo grass is primarily used as a groundcover or border foreground plant, however it looks quite attractive in planters, around ponds or between stone foot paths. Suitable to plant under larger trees, monkey grass is able to survive amongst other plants with more competitive root structures. Once established this small wonder requires little or no attention and is free of most insect and disease problems. Filtered sunlight to full shade help drive the marketability of this plant in our garden center as customers are tired of the pedestrian solutions of ajuga and pachysandra. You can propagate this plant by dividing large clumps and consider shearing back the older spent leaves in early spring before the new growth comes out. Tolerant to medium wet conditions, mondo grass grows to about a foot tall depending on cultivar. Hardy from zones 6-11, monkey grass even flowers in the summer.
There are several cultivars to impress and add variety to your gardens. Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nanus’, as you might expect, is a lush, dark green variety with half the height of the species only reaching 4-6 inches. Ophiopogon ‘Kyoto Dwarf’ is almost microscopic. Appreciating the diminutive structure of this plant reaching only 1-2 inches tall and understanding the potential of it as a bonsai understory… it’s only hardy to zone 7. So enjoy it
Hopefully you have been inspired to visit the Bloedel Reserve, “a place where one is reminded of the fundamental bond that exists between man and nature” (Prentice Bloedel). A place where I was inspired to plant monkey grass once I had seen it done so well. Lastly, Prentice Bloedel’s truism sums up best man and nature. “Nature can do without man, but man cannot do without nature”.