M. macowanii is a wiry grass, forming large, lax tussocks and flowering in summer. Grasses are the most important plant family in the world, because of the large number of species, the biomass and area they cover and most importantly the diversity of habitat they occupy and their great value to man.
Merxmuellera macowanii is a tufted perennial grass, about 700-1 300 mm tall. The leaf blade is about 650 x 1-2 mm, tightly folded with age, the old leaves break off above the sheath mouth, the remaining leaf base sometimes splits along the midrib and the two halves curl away from each other. The ligule of this grass forms a fringe of hair.
The inflorescence is a loosely contracted, interrupted panicle, approximately 170-270 mm long and shortly branched. Spikelets arise from the short branches. This grass flowers from July to January.
Distribution and Habitat
Its status is not yet known.
This grass occurs mostly in mountainous regions (montane) and subalpine regions at altitudes between 1 500 and 3 000 m above sea level. It also occurs in mountain grassveld, ranging from the northeastern Cape to Mpumalanga as well as KwaZulu-Natal , eastern Free State and Lesotho . It is locally dominant and occurs alongside streams and in marshy places.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Merxmuellera refers to the German botanist H. Merxmüller; macowanii refers to the Cape botanist, P. MacOwan.
Molalahlolo may refer to a victory ornament worn around the neck by the Sotho people. Moseha , which means cut, refers to the sharp edges of the leaf blade, which before it becomes folded can cut a person.
This grass seed is mainly dispersed by wind. Some insects feed on the pollen (M. Stiller pers. comm.).
Uses and cultural aspects
M. macowanii can be used for grazing, though their hard leaves are unpalatable. The dried, folded leaves of this grass are stiff and very strong and much sought after for making food, and grain baskets and hats. Mats made from sedges and other items made from the culms of grasses such as Eragrostis plana and Hyparrhenia hirta are usually bound together with a thin, flat, plaited rope of M. macowanii. Together with the previous species it is exported to Australia for yard brooms.
Growing Merxmuellera macowanii
This grass can make a beautiful garden plant if it is well looked after. Prepare the soil well before sowing (i.e. fertilizing and digging in compost before planting), water regularly and fertilize during the growing season. Although it is a perennial and looks as if it dies in winter, cut it back to about 150 mm and the plant will sprout again in spring
Seeds can be collected by tying a plastic bag around the inflorescence and bending them downwards. After about two weeks the seeds will have collected in the bottom of the plastic bag. These seed can then be sown in seed trays or in open ground. When sowing the seeds the soil must be mixed in the ratio 1:1:1 (sifted pine bark : river sand: loam soil.). Spread seeds evenly on top of the soil mixture, and then cover the seeds with approximately 0.5 mm of the same mixture. Use a very fine-holed watering can to water. Seedlings can be transplanted after 8 weeks; when transplanting, be careful not to break their roots.
References and further reading
- Gibbs Russell, G.E., Watson, L., Koekemoer, M., Smook, L., Barker, N.P., Anderson, H.M. & Dallwitz, M.J.. 1990. Grasses of southern Africa . Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No.58.
- Moffett, R. 1997. Grasses of the eastern Free State : their description and uses . UNIQWA, the Qwa-Qwa Campus of the University of the North, Phuthaditjhaba , South Africa .