Ehrharta calycina is usually perennial with strongly geniculate culms (stems), red-flowered and has a creeping, branched rhizome.
Ehrharta calycina is a very variable perennial, rarely annual, 300-700(-1800) mm high; often rhizomatous. The leaf blade is up to 7 mm wide, expanded or rolled and filiform (thread-like). The spikelet is 4.0-8.5 mm long; glumes (the bracts at the base of the spikelet) ± equal, shorter than the spikelet; the sterile lemmas are similar in texture, the sides long-hairy; the first sterile lemma is more than 2/3 as long as the second sterile lemma; the second sterile lemma has an acute or truncate apex, commonly with a mucro or minute awn arising abruptly from the central vein, and a pair of ear-like appendages at the base; the anther is 2.8-6.0 mm long. Flowering time: July to June (but usually in spring).
The SANBI Threatened Plants Programme has as yet not indicated its conservation status, but so far, Ehrharta calycina is common in Cape areas, and is good for grazing, so conservation is practiced indirectly.
Distribution and habitat
The distribution of Ehrharta calycina is endemic, mainly in the southwestern Cape region, with a few widespread. It was introduced to Australia and California, USA as a pasture grass and is now naturalized there. It is adapted to a large variety of habitats, but usually prefers disturbed areas and sandy soils. It is a common winter rainfall grass.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Ehrharta calycina was named for Friedrich Ehrhart (1742-1795), a Swiss apothecary and botanist. The species name, calycina, is derived from the Latin word meaning belonging to or like a calyx. The genus Ehrharta has ± 35 species in southern Africa and then northwards to Ethiopia and Yemen. It is naturalized in Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia ; 22 species occur in South Africa.
Ehrharta calycina has many habitats and soil types. It favours sandy soils in the succulent veld of arid areas, but is also widespread in other types of vegetation, occasionally dominant in large patches, especially in disturbed veld. It is pollinated by wind and also seed-dispersed by wind.
Uses and cultural aspects
Ehrharta calycina is a good grazing grass in the more arid regions. Local strains have been tested for forage value and are it is one of the few winter rainfall grasses that is valuable for grazing. In the past it was used to rehabilitate mine dumps. It is a persistent weed in some parts of Australia.
Growing Ehrharta calycina
Ehrharta calycina is best to use in a garden as an ornamental, as it is evergreen. It tends to grow both in height and in width, giving origin to a rounded shrub. It is easy to cultivate, not forgetting its watering and nutritional needs: always leave the soil dry for few days.
It is good to practice a preventative treatment, using a wide-range insecticide, which should be applied when the grass is not flowering.
References and further reading
- Chippindall, L.K.A. & Crook, A.O. 1976. Grasses of southern Africa. Collins, Harare [ Salisbury ].
- Gibbs Russell, G.E., Watson, L., Koekemoer, M., Smook, L., Barker, N.P., Anderson, H.M. & Dallwitz, M.J. 1990. Grasses of southern Africa. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 58.
- Leistner, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seeds plants of southern Africa : families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Van Oudtshoorn, F. 1999. Guide to the grasses of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Aluoneswi Caroline Mashau
Pretoria National Herbarium