Elegia grandispicata

H.P.Linder

Family: Restionaceae
Common names: none known

Male in flower

Elegia grandispicata is a restio with large golden inflorescences that seem to glow in the early morning light.

Description
Plants have an upright habit and grow to a maximum height of 1,5 m with the spread of the crown 0.3–1 m in diameter. Elegia grandispicata has a tufted habit, meaning it does not have a spreading underground rhizome. The diameter of plants at this tufted base is between 0.1–0.4 m.

Habit of growth

Culms (stems) are unbranched and have a textured feel. Young culms are yellow-green, and on maturing change to blue-green. Leaves are absent but along each culm are leaf sheaths; these are a warm tan colour. As they age they come away from the culms, eventually falling off leaving behind a small scar (abscission line).

New growth

All restios are dioecious which means that male and female flowers occur on separate plants. Each culm has 1 inflorescence at its tip measuring between 30–120 mm long and consisting of anything between 20 to over 500 spikelets per inflorescence. Each tiny male spikelet measures just 2.5 mm long and consists of 4 or 5 individual flowers. The female spikelet is slightly larger at 5 mm and has 3–5 individual flowers. Surrounding these spikelets are spathes which look like large golden bracts.

Close up of female flowers

Flowering occurs from May to August and seed is released in March, just before the new season's flowers appear. Seeds are brown and 3 mm long.

Seed being released

Conservation status
Elegia grandispicata is listed as Least Concern.

Distribution and habitat
Elegia grandispicata occurs from the Cedarberg to the Langeberg Mountains in the Western Cape.

This is a widely distributed fynbos species and grows in soils derived from Table Mountain Sandstone. It occurs at altitudes of between 450–1 700 m. Seasonal water availability is important for this restio. It grows in large drifts in marshes or alongside stream seeps or high up in mountain basins. The habitat seems to be quite variable, as populations can also be found growing on well-drained slopes. Fynbos species are adapted for rainfall in winter and the regions where this plant grows experience rainfall varying between 260–3 050 mm per year.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The family name, Restionaceae, is derived from the Latin restis , which means cord or rope and refers to their former use. Restionaceae are found in the southern hemisphere, with ± 357 species occurring in Africa, ±150 in Australia, 4 in New Zealand and 1 each in South America and South East Asia respectively.

The genus Elegia comprises 52 species. These species vary enormously, from the little E. squamosa, a mat-forming plant growing 5–20 cm tall, to the well-known E. capensis with its distinctive whorled growth reaching 3 m tall. Elegia is derived from the Greek word elegeia which means ‘song of lamentation'. It is thought that this refers to the sound restios make while they are moving in the breeze.

The specific name is split into two parts: grandis meaning large and spicatus meaning with spikelets. I personally think the spikelets are very small but possibly they were referring to the large flowering inflorescences of both the male and female plants.

Ecology
Elegia grandispicata is pollinated by the wind. The male plants produce huge quantities of pollen that is blown by the wind onto the receptive flower parts of the female plants. This pollen is bright yellow and if you brush past a male plant at the right time it will shower you in a big dust-like cloud of pollen.

Restios are a typical constituent of fynbos and they have adapted to a regular fire cycle. Elegia grandispicata is an example of a re-seeder. Year after year plants drop lots and lots of seed. Eventually a fire makes its way through the population and kills all the plants. The smoke, temperature fluctuations, water availability and clearing of vegetation by the fire all act as triggers to stimulate the seed that has been waiting dormant to germinate. Germination is prolific and thousands of baby seedlings appear. Many of these will die but a strong new population of plants has now been established to carry on the cycle of maturing, flowering and producing more seed in preparation for the next fire.

Uses and cultural aspects
Elegia grandispicata was first collected by Kirstenbosch horticulturists in 1984. It is a relatively new introduction into ornamental horticulture.

Female plants

Growing Elegia grandispicata

There are two ways to propagate restios: dividing the rhizome and sowing seed.

Being a tufted restio, Elegia grandispicata does not have an extensive spreading rhizome. It is small and compact and therefore will only yield a few plants per division. To divide plants, dig up an established specimen and cut the rhizome into big chunks making sure each piece has a good number of culms and roots attached. Plant these pieces into the ground or into pots and water them well. Do this task during late summer before the cool weather arrives when plants send up their new shoots. Plants will take at least a year to settle in and start growing strongly again.

At Kirstenbosch we use primarily seed propagation for the restio family. We find this a fast and easy method, allowing us to produce large quantities of plants each year.

Sow your seed from April–May (autumn) when the days are warm (20–30°C) and the nights are cool (10–15°C). Treat seed prior to planting with Instant Smoke Primer. This smoke treatment vastly improves germination rates. Use seed trays that are 10 cm deep and fill these trays with a well-drained sandy medium. Plant the seed thickly, as 50 % of restio seed is generally not viable. Cover the seed lightly with sand and water gently. Place the trays in a light well ventilated area. Keep the trays damp but not wet. After 3–4 weeks germination should take place. Once the plants have developed a few small culms, after ± 6 – 12 weeks, and are 30 mm tall, they can be pricked out into 6-packs or plug trays. Use a well-drained fynbos potting medium. At Kirstenbosch we use 8 parts finely milled pine bark and 3 parts coarse gritty sand.

Harden off plants in a lightly shaded area until they are growing strongly (± 4 weeks) and then place in the sun. Once the roots start to show through the bottom of the trays pot into small black bags to grow on further or plant directly into your garden.

You can plant them into your garden at any stage during the year provided there is regular deep irrigation. The other option is to use natural rainfall to your advantage and plant at the beginning of the rainy season. Elegia grandispicata requires a rich organic soil, so incorporate lots of compost before planting and feed annually. Plant in a well-drained position and water regularly or plant into a seasonally moist spot.

In general, restios do not have any major pest or disease afflictions. The most common problem is damping off or fungal attack during seed propagation. Once plants are affected there is no cure, so prevention is the best option: treat with a general fungicide once a week commencing on germination and use until pricking out.

References and further reading

  • Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J.C. 2000. Cape Plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
  • Haaksma, E.D. & Linder, H.P. 2012. Restios of the fynbos. Struik Nature, Cape Town.
  • Linder, H.P. 2011. African Restionaceae version 6 . CD. University of Zurich, Switzerland.
  • Manyama, P.A. & Kamundi, D.A. 2006. Elegia grandispicata H.P.Linder. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2013.1.

 

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