This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Hoots annual, and consisting of many white, fibrous rootlets. Leaves arising direct from the crown of the root, about half an inch broad at their base, about four inches long, smooth, milky green, and their edges often bent inwards, terminating in a sharp point. Flower-stem rather slender, about two feet high, round, very slightly furrowed, with four or five knots or joints, the chief part of its length inclosed in the sheaths of the leaves, the lower part of which is often purple. Flowers crown the stem in a loose, nodding panicle of scaly spikelets, of which the largest are nearly an inch long, and one-third of an inch broad at their base, tapering off to a flat-sided cone shape. When ripe these spikelets are of a very pale straw colour, and have a silvery luster, often slightly tinged with purple near their base; stalks of the spikelets very fine: the florets are in two rows; calyx of two unequal valves; ovary almost hemispherical, with two points. It belongs to Triandria Digynia of the Linnaean System.
The earliest writer who mentions it as grown in England is Gerarde. He says it was then called "Pearl Grass and Garden Quakers, growing naturally in some parts of Spain, and it is sown yearly in many of our English gardens".
The term Quaking Grass has reference to the spikelets, which are in constant motion, being agitated by the slightest current of air, owing; to their size, and the extreme delicacy and length of their stalks.
Parkinson, who wrote a . few years later than Gerarde, says this Grass was given him by Clusius, the botanist, under the name of "the elegant Grass with Hop-like heads" (Gramens elegans pulull glumis), a very descriptive title, and, adds Parkinson, "It is now-adays among our gentlewomen much esteemed to wear on their heads or farms, as they would do any fine flower or pretty toy to behold, as also to put into wreaths and garlands that the country people make for their sports and pastimes".
Ray writing about the same time, says, that when he sowed it in the spring it produced its flower-heads in August, but if he sowed it in the autumn they were produced in spring. He found it growing wild near Messina, in Sicily, and it is also a native of Italy and other parts of southern Europe.
It flourishes in any moderately fertile, loamy garden soil, and may be sown at either of the seasons mentioned by Ray. The seedlings from the autumn sowing are sometimes destroyed by severe winters.
The Quaking grass is quite ornamental in gardens, and much esteemed by ladies for dressing their flower-pots, as well as for a dried ornament in winter. A root or two requires but a little space.