Golden Japanese Forest Grass Plant Profile

macra aureola

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

If you think all ornamental grasses look alike, golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ) will change your mind. With its arching leaves in shade of green, bright gold, or variegated, Japanese forest grass is a unique ornamental grass. Unfortunately, this perennial clump-forming grass grows with excruciating slowness.

The flower stalks (inflorescence) are produced in mid to late summer and really are not very showy. The plant is grown for its striking foliage, which turns orange or bronze in fall.

Botanical Name Hakonechloa macra
Common Names Golden Japanese forest grass, Hakone grass
Plant Type Perennial ornamental grass
Mature Size 24 inches tall, 36 inch spread
Sun Exposure Part shade, shade
Soil Type Moist, well-drained soil
Soil pH 6.0 to 7.0 (acidic to neutral)
Flower Color Yellow-green (insignificant)
Bloom Time Mid to late-summer
Hardiness Zones 5 to 9
Native Area Moist cliffs and woodland areas of Japan
macra aureola shrub

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' in a landscape

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

How to Grow Golden Japanese Forest Grass

Japanese forest grass likes rich, fertile soil with an average to acidic pH (6.0 to 7.0). It will not be happy in either heavy, wet soils or dry, sandy soil. It really helps the plant to become established if you keep it watered regularly, at least the first year. Provided the soil is healthy and rich in organic matter, the grass should not need any supplemental feeding.

Japanese forest grass will drop its leaves in colder climates and die back to the ground during winter. It can be slow to reappear in the spring. In more moderate climates, the old leaves will brown and rot slightly. In either case, old leaves should be removed in early spring to allow the new growth to come through unhindered. This grass isn't one that provides winter interest.

Since Hakonechloa is such a slow grower, spreading by rhizomes, you do not have to worry about it taking over your garden. Hakonechloa is virtually problem-free. When it does get large enough to divide, you can do so in spring.


The brightest gold color is seen if this plant is grown in part shade, though golden Japanese forest grass will tolerate full sun to full shade. But full sun will cause the leaves to turn white, while in shadier spots, the leaves tend to turn lime-green.


Plant Japanese forest grass in a nutrient-rich soil that is well-drained.


Keep this plant moist but not soggy. A thick layer of mulch around the base of the plant will help preserve soil moisture.

Temperature and Humidity

Golden Japanese forest grass is reliably perennial in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9. In thrives in all conditions over this range.


In good soil, this plant requires no feeding. In poorer soils, feed it once in the spring after new growth appears.


In early spring before growth begins, cut back the foliage to near ground level.

Propagating Japanese Forest Grass

This plant is easily propagated by dividing and replanting root clumps in spring.

Related Varieties

  • Hakonechloa macra 'Albo Striata’ (’Albovariegata’) has green leaves with white stripes. More sun tolerant than the gold and grows a bit faster.
  • Hakonechloa macra 'Beni Kaze' (‘Benikaze’) means "red wind" in Japanese. This one is solid green during the growing season but turns shades of red in the fall.
  • Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' is the most commonly grown cultivar. The gorgeous golden variegated foliage turns copper-orange in the fall.

Landscape Uses

This versatile grass seems to work everywhere. It is short enough to be used on a garden bed edge or on a bank, and it is flashy enough to hold its own in a perennial border. It also makes a wonderful container plant, maintaining its size for many years and softening pots by cascading over the edges. It's particularly helpful in brightening up shady spaces, as this grass thrives in part-sun to full shade.

Since its color is from the foliage, golden Japanese forest grass makes a great foil for darker leaves and flowers all season long. Burgundy foliage like sweet potato vines, coral bells, and celosia are accentuated next to golden Japanese forest grass. It is also a nice complement next to the gray of stone walls and walkways.

Golden Japanese forest grass sends up its inflorescence, or blooms, in mid- to late summer, but they are insignificant. This plant is all about fabulous foliage, with the green leaves turning spectacular shades of orange and bronze for autumn interest.