Elegia nuda is a neat upright-growing restio. The light green stems (called culms) contrast well with the black flower heads, and planted en masse create a striking swathe. Elegia (Chondropetalum) tectorum is a very well known and over-used restio; why not plant Elegia nuda instead?
Plants are very similar in appearance to Elegia tectorum although E. nuda remains upright while E. tectorum has more of an arching habit. Elegia nuda has finer, shorter culms and a more delicate appearance. Botanically they are differentiated by the “petals” (perianth segments) of E. nuda being rough on the outside and having a midrib running along the full length of the petal. E. tectorum petals are smooth on the upper half and only have a slight midrib. This detail is very small and not visible to the naked eye.
E. nuda grows in a clump and is between 200 mm and 1 m tall. Plants have a rhizome (a modified stem that grows horizontally underground). Roots grow from the rhizome down into the soil and the green stems (culms) shoot upwards from the rhizome. The culms are unbranched. Restio leaves are reduced to form leaf sheaths along the length of the culm. Once the sheaths on E. nuda mature they fall off, leaving behind a dark ring around the culm called an abscission ring. As in most members of the restio family, male and female flowers occur on separate plants (dioecious). A good way to match male and female plants is to look at the sheaths: if they look alike, they belong to the same species.
E. nuda flowers from April to June and October, and flowering heads and bracts mature to dark brown/black. Each individual flower is found inside a tiny spikelet which is less than 3 mm long. The number of spikelets that make up the flower heads varies immensely, and on the male can be anything between 21 to 100 and on the female between 11 to 100 spikelets. Tiny brown seeds, about 0.7 mm long, are released just before new flowering stems are produced.
Threat status is Least Concern (LC) as it is a widespread restio and occurs within protected habitats.
Distribution and habitat
Elegia nuda occurs in fynbos vegetation from Darling on the West Coast to Albertinia in the Southern Cape. It is found growing on low-lying coastal flats or at the base of valleys at an altitude of between 10 and 200 m. Soils are sandy and acid.
It needs to be protected from frost and requires regular watering as it naturally occurs in marshy habitats. In a Mediterranean climate rain falls in winter, and the area in which Elegia nuda occurs naturally receives between 330 and 1570 mm annually.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Many books still refer to this plant as Chondropetalum nudum. A recent DNA investigation has revealed that Chondropetalum belongs within the Elegia genus, hence the name change to Elegia nuda.
The genus name Elegia comes from the Greek word elegeia which means ‘song of lamentation'. This may refer to the sound restios make while they are moving in the breeze, although Elegia nuda does not have the large bracts or spathes typical of other elegias that make the rustling noise in the wind. The species epithet nuda originates from Latin nudus which means naked or unclothed. This may refer to the flowers not being covered by bracts.
Restionaceae is one of the main components of fynbos vegetation. There are over 350 species within Restionaceae with Elegia alone containing more than 50 species.
Restios are pollinated by the wind. The male plants produce copious amounts of pollen that are blown onto female plants, pollinating the flowers. The seeds are small and light and dispersed by the wind.
When Elegia nuda gets burnt in a fire the above-ground parts of the plant are completely killed. The underground rhizome survives and vigorously sends up new shoots taking advantage of nutrients that have been released after the fire.
Uses and cultural aspects
The first collection of this plant by Kirstenbosch horticulturists was made in 1977 from Gordon's Bay. Since then it has been grown in the garden for display.
Growing Elegia nuda
Plant Elegia nuda in a well-drained spot in the garden. It is a small to medium-sized restio and does require a fair amount of space to grow in. Plant in full sun. No pruning is needed other than to occasionally remove dead stems. Ensure that there is a good layer of mulch present. This keeps the soil cool and reduces evaporation during hot weather. Feed plants regularly with an organic fertilizer until they are established, at least for the first year after planting.
Restios are relatively disease-free plants, and no major pests and diseases are likely to affect Elegia nuda.
There are two ways to propagate restios: dividing the rhizome and sowing seed.
Dividing the rhizome entails digging up an established plant and breaking the rhizome into pieces at least 150 mm long. Plant these pieces into the ground or into pots. Water them well after planting. This is done during winter time before the plant sends up new culms. The plants will take at least a year to start growing strongly and produce new shoots.
At Kirstenbosch we use seed propagation for all the restios. This is a fast and easy method to use if you require large quantities of plants. The seed is planted in April–May (autumn) when the days are warm (20–30°C) and the nights are cool (10–15°C). Treat the seed prior to planting with Instant Smoke Primer. This smoke treatment greatly improves germination. Seed is planted into seed trays 100 mm deep and filled with a well-drained medium. Plant the seed thickly, as 50 % of restio seed is not viable. Cover the seed lightly with sand and water. Place the trays in a light well-ventilated area. Keep the trays moist 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 fynbos potting medium consisting of 1 part loam, 8 parts bark and 3 parts sand.
Harden off the plants in a semi-shaded area until they are growing strongly (± 4 weeks) before placing in the sun. Once the roots start to show through the bottom of the trays they can be potted into small black bags. After growing on they will be ready to be planted in the garden.
The best time of the year to plant into the garden is autumn or at the beginning of the rainy season. This allows the plant to settle in and grow deep roots before the hot summer season begins. This species will thrive if watered regularly.
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. 2000. Restios of the fynbos. Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town.
- Linder, H.P. 2006. African Restionaceae 4. CD. Bolus Herbarium, Department of Botany, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch.
- Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds). In prep. Red List of South African plants. Strelitzia.
- Smith, C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden