This pretty, tufted grass with its bluish leaves and shining pink
inflorescences is an attractive addition to any border or wild garden.
It is particularly effective when planted in wide swathes.
This perennial grass species grows in tufts of rolled blue-green
leaves that reach about 250 mm in length. The flowers appear mostly
in summer (September to April), and fade from purple through rose
pink to white as they mature. They are densely covered with glistening,
silky hairs that give the panicles a 'shining' appearance.
Melinis nerviglumis occurs in Africa south of the Sahara
and in Madagascar.
Melinis, the genus name, is either derived from the Greek
melas, meaning black, as the seeds of the grass are black,
or from the Latin mel or honey, as some members of the genus
give off a strong molasses smell; nerviglumis refers to the
veins on the glume (bract at the base of the spikelets which bears
There are 10 species of Melinis in southern Africa, including
the well-known Natal red top, Melinis repens ( formerly
Rhynchelytrum repens), which is common on roadsides and in disturbed
areas. It is often confused with Melinis nerviglumis, but
can be distinguished by the more open leaves.
Bristle-leaved red top grows in undisturbed veld in shallow, stony
soil, usually on slopes where it may be locally dominant. It is
not a good fodder grass because of its rolled leaves. The flowers
are wind pollinated, and the light, fluffy seeds are scattered by
wind. Birds make use of the fluffy seed heads as nesting material.
The attractive pinkish inflorescences can be used in flower arrangements.
Growing Melinis nerviglumis
Easily grown from seed collected in summer when the inflorescences
have almost turned white, seedlings can be planted out in early
spring. Plants already established in a garden will self-seed. Ready
for planting 'plugs' can sometimes be obtained from selected nurseries.
Once established, the grass needs little attention other than the
removal of dead leaf matter at the end of winter (July and August).
Bristle-leaved red top does not appear to be susceptible to pests
South African indigenous grasses have been very under-utilized
as gardening subjects. A strong trend towards 'wild gardening' has
developed overseas, and additionally, grass species are increasingly
being used both in groups or singly to enhance border plantings.This
trend offers exciting opportunities for local gardeners as South
Africa has many striking grass species that provide year-long interest
in the garden, as well as providing shelter, food and nesting material
for many species of birds and insects.
Bristle leaved red top is only one of many indigenous grass species
with enormous potential for the South African garden.
- KING, M. & OUDOLF, P. 1998. Gardening with grasses.
Frances Lincoln, London.
- GIBBS RUSSELL et al. 1990. Grasses of southern Africa. Memoirs
of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 58.
- VAN OUDTSHOORN, F. 1999. Guide to grasses of southern Africa.
Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Natal National Botanical Garden