This is one of the most versatile plants of the large Cape reed
family. It can be planted in the garden but will also do well in
a pot on a patio or on a terrace. As a garden plant it is a low
maintenance, elegant foliage plant that can grow in partial shade,
half shade or in the full sun.
subverticillata is a tufted reed-like plant up to 2 metres high
and up to 1.5 m in diameter. It has a very distinctive growth form
with cane-like stems, which have soft green whorls of modified branches
at each node. Male and female flowers are produced on separate plants,
the female flowers are white, the male flowers greenish-yellow and
quite insignificant. The pretty silvery seeds ripen in small capsules
and it is at this stage that the female plant is at its best for
use as cut-foliage, with tall arching stems and nearly black capsules
at the end of each dark green whorl of foliage. The flowering time
is during March or April and the seed is ripe in November, while
the main growth flush is from August to January. As all restios,
the plants are wind pollinated, although the bees have a few days
during the flowering season when they are busy harvesting the pollen
from the male plants.
In nature the plants can be found on Table Mountain sandstone bedrock
in mountain valleys in the South Western Cape, from Caledon to Paarl.
They typically occur along streamlines or along the margins of the
riverine scrub-forest, where they receive some groundwater throughout
the year. It is a common species in its relatively small distribution
area. This restio has two survival mechanisms for existence in the
fire-prone fynbos. It produces a large amount of viable seeds to
be stored in the soil and it coppices from the rhizome or base after
The family name of Restionaceae refers to the Latin restis,
which means cord or rope and alludes to the use of the plants in
southern Africa. The more than 400 species in about 40 genera of
the Restionaceae family occur in the winter-rainfall regions of
South Africa and Australia, with outliers in Africa, Madagascar,
Indo-China and Chile. The species name of subverticillata
is from the Latin verticillata and means somewhat (sub) whorled,
referring to the branches, which appear in poorly defined whorls
at each node. The economic use of plants of this family has been
limited, as the plants contain a large amount of tannin and so are
grazed only as a last resort by cattle and sheep. The species that
have simple unbranched stems are sometimes used for thatching, while
the species with branched stems are used as brooms, in Afrikaans
Growing Ischyrolepis subverticillata
This restio has been cultivated overseas under a variety of names
for more than a century. It has been grown outside in protected
situations in the milder climates of Ireland and Cornwall as well
as in pots which were placed inside during the winter. In South
Africa it can be grown in gardens in informal drifts or as a pot
plant on a patio or terrace.
The plants are best grown from seed, which has a good germination
percentage and germinates even better if treated with smoke or
'Instant Smoke Plus' seed primer. This species can grow in full
sun, partial- or half shade and prefers a well-drained soil and
plenty of air movement. The plants adapt to a large variety of soil
types. The best time for planting restios is at the beginning of
the rainy season, as the plants need regular watering during the
first six weeks to two months after planting. After this initial
period the plants can survive with a little additional watering
but grow better with a normal garden watering regime. They may be
fed with standard organic fertilizers such as Seagro or Kelpak,
or by sprinkling the surrounding soil with a small amount of ammonium
sulfate during the growing season. Restios will respond to regular
watering by showing more robust growth, but they are essentially
plants, which are adapted to a long dry season.
This is a fast growing species that will reach about 1 m high one
year after sowing and will have formed a handsome plant three years
after sowing. The plants produce a new growth flush in the centre
of the plant every year. The individual stems start to deteriorate
during the third year, but by that time already two new flushes
of growth will have appeared for the yearly renewal of the plant.
This governs the maintenance of the plant, which really only needs
a regular removal of the brown, dead stems at the outside part of
- Andrews, S. & McClintock, D. (1982), Notes on Restio suberticellatus,
The Plantsman 37:230-233.
- Dorrat-Haaksma, E. & Linder, H. P., 2000, Restios of the
Fynbos, The Botanical Society of South Africa.
- Linder, H.P., 1985, A conspectus of the African Species of Restionaceae.
Bothalia 15 : 3-4.
- Linder, H.P., 1991, A review of the Southern African Restionaceae,
Contributions from the Bolus Herbarium, Number 13.
- Brown, N. Jamieson, H. & Botha, P., 1998, Grow Restios,
Kirstenbosch Gardening Series, National Botanical Institute, Cape