Most commonly known as mondo grass, Ophiopogon japonicus (o-fio-PO-gon ja-PON-i-kus) is a popular ornamental grass hailing from the Asparagaceae family.
The scientific name means “snake’s beard” in Greek and the plant is also known by this name in Japan.
Other popular names include the:
- Dragon’s beard
- Fountain plant
- Monkey grass
- Dwarf lilyturf
This evergreen perennial is a grasslike relative of the lily and is especially cherished in Japanese gardens.
Native to Japanese and Korean woodlands, the plant features clumps of stemless leaves of dark green foliage color and tuberous roots.
The flower color varies, allowing for variance when doing a mass planting strategically
Perfect for shady areas with partial shade, the plant has numerous cultivars, most notably ‘Albus’ which has white flowers, and ‘Silver Mist’, which features variegated, white-striped leaves.
Another popular dwarf mondo grass cultivar, ‘nana’, grows to roughly half the size of its parent plant and has the common name of dwarf mondo grass.
Other Ophiopogon of Interest
Ophiopogon Japonicus Care
Size & Growth
Despite being rhizomatous, this plant type has a slow growth rate, forming arching clumps around 8″ to 12” inches tall and up to 1’ foot wide.
Its grass-like foliage measures 3/16” inches wide.
It has tuberous roots with large stolons, giving it good stability.
While the leaves are narrower, the plant is very similar in appearance to Liriope.
Flowering and Fragrance
This plant has a bloom time lasting from early to mid-summer, forming leafless stalks bearing short racemes of 2″ to 3” inches long amid the foliage.
These racemes produce ¼ “ inch white, lavender, or pale lilac flowers which are bell-shaped.
As the flowers die, they leave behind ¼” inch spherical blue berries.
These bird-friendly berries are hard to spot due to the density of the green leaves around them.
Light & Temperature
Mondo grass fares best in part shade to full shade, but can tolerate full sun.
It should be planted in USDA hardiness zones 6b to 11a.
However, the plant remains hardy when exposed to temperatures of 0° to 10° degrees Fahrenheit (-18° to -12° C) for short periods of time.
Watering and Feeding
Monkey grass should be watered weekly, with additional water given in extreme heat or when planted in containers for its water needs.
While it prefers well-drained and constantly moist soil, it can survive completely submerged for a period of time.
A controlled-release fertilizer may be applied during spring and summer to ensure the plant’s getting adequate food during its growing season.
You may also choose to add a ½” inch layer of compost annually to provide additional nutrients.
Soil & Transplanting
- Ophiopogon japonicus ‘nana’ grows best in rich, well-drained soil.
- Aim for a mix slightly acidic and humusy.
- Sandy and loamy soils are both appropriate for planting black mondo grass.
- Transplanting may be done by removing an entire clump.
- You may divide the clumps into smaller sections for mass planting so long as each section has no less than eight leaves and multiple rhizomes.
- It’s also possible to speed up root growth by trimming back the roots prior to transplanting.
- Plant the sections 4′ to 12’ feet apart, setting them no deeper than they were previously were.
- Cover with a layer of soil and pat down, then water until moist.
Grooming And Maintenance
Due to the grasslike nature of this plant, it is low maintenance.
However, be warned the shoots and roots can slowly take over a garden if not trimmed back or otherwise blocked (such as using submerged planters to restrict root spreading).
How To Propagate Dwarf Lilyturf
Propagate mondo grass in two different ways.
The easiest method is through division during spring, separating new plants by clipping the side shoots and transplanting them to a new space.
A slightly more complicated method is to use the seeds.
These may be sown as soon as they are ripe.
Choose a sandy compost and germinate in a cold frame.
Once large enough to transplant by hand, move each seedling to its own container and continue to grow in the cold frame until after the first winter.
Move to their permanent home in late spring.
Dwarf Ophiopogon Mondo Grass Pest or Disease Problems
This plant is generally hardy, being salt and drought tolerant.
It holds up well against most pests and diseases, although slugs may become an issue. Learn more on controlling slugs and snails.
It can safely grow around black walnut and is rabbit and deer resistant.
It should be noted this plant does not hold up well against colder winter temperatures and thus needs shelter if grown in USDA zone 6a.
Suggested Ophiopogon Japonicus Uses
Perfect for use as both an evergreen ground cover and in zen or contemporary gardens, this plant is an excellent filler for the shadier areas of your property.
It compliments rock gardens and makes an excellent edging for pathways.
It’s often used in borders, along ponds or other bodies of water, or as ground cover accent plants for a patio or entryway.
In Japanese culture, this plant is the basis for traditional gardens and is often planted at the base of pagoda lanterns and stone basins.
To achieve a Japanese feel, be sure to plant in irregularly-shaped clumps.
Meanwhile, the Chinese use this plant for traditional medicine.
The tubers, known as mai dong, are considered a tonic for the yin.
It is believed it aids against constipation, diphtheria, dry cough, dry mouth, insomnia, and provides support for the heart, lungs, and stomach.
While this plant is often sold for freshwater aquariums, it should be noted it is not an aquatic plant and will survive only a few months when left submerged.