This is a short grass producing many flowering stems with spikelets
(flowers) that usually have dark purple glumes (bracts) that contrast
beautifully with the long silky hairs present. Although not known
in cultivation as yet, it is surely a grass worth trying in the
Staggers grass is a tufted perennial growing to about 500 mm tall.
It is a very coarse plant with leaves that are usually rolled and
very rough to the touch. The spikelets have long silky hairs on
the inside and are surrounded by papery, hairless, usually purple
bracts. Flowering time is throughout most of the summer, from October
decumbens has a limited distribution in South Africa, being
found only in the arid areas of central South Africa, namely Free
State, parts of the Northern Cape, Eastern and Western Cape and
in Lesotho (see map). Staggers grass and M. racemosa (melic
grass, haakgras) are endemic, that is, these two species occur only
in South Africa and Lesotho.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The origin of the genus name Melica is uncertain, but mel
is derived from the Latin meaning honey and ica means 'belonging
to'. The species name decumbens comes from the Latin meaning
prostrate on the earth with the tips turning up.
The genus has about 80 species and occurs mainly in the temperate
regions of the world. It can easily be confused with the other species
in South Africa, Melica racemosa, a more widespread species.
In this species the spikelets are usually smaller, not purple, and
the plant is much more straggling with an open tuft.
It grows on hill- and mountainsides amongst rocks, under trees and
shrubs, occasionally in disturbed areas along roadsides.
Uses and cultural aspects
The name 'staggers' comes from the fact that if cattle, donkeys
and horses eat large quantities they display behaviour like a drunk
person and stagger about. It is not fatal and the animal will recover,
if looked after. Luckily, because of the very coarse leaves, it
is not very palatable except in the very young stage.
Growing Melica decumbens
Staggers grass grows between rocks and is fairly short,
therefore could probably be used well as a border plant or on a
rockery. It will also grow in semi-shade. As far as known it has
never been cultivated in gardens, but as it is very pretty, especially
when covered with dew or raindrops, it seems worthwhile to try and
introduce staggers grass in one's wild and/or indigenous garden.
Any information on the cultivation of Melica decumbens will
be appreciated. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
References and further reading
- Gibbs Russell, G.E., Watson, L., Koekemoer, M., Smook, L., Barker,
N.P., Anderson, H.M. & Dallwitz, M.J. 1991. Grasses of southern
Africa. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa
- Kellerman, T.S., Coetzer, J.A.W. & Naudé, T.W. 1988.
Plant poisonings and mycotoxicoses of livestock in southern
Africa. Oxford University Press, Cape Town.
- Moffett, R. 1997. Grasses of the eastern Free State.
- Van Oudtshoorn, F. 1999. A guide to the grasses of southern
Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
National Herbarium, Pretoria