Restio festuciformis Nees ex Mast.

Family: Restionaceae (Cape reed family)
Common names:
Groengrasriet

Restio festuciformis

This is a very ornamental small plant, rather unusual for a restio in that it does not look like a reed, but much more like an attractive grass species. The plants have a soft tufted look, bright green during the vegetative phase and a shiny golden green during the flowering and seeding phase.

Male plants of R estio festuciformisBoth the common name (groengrasriet can be loosely translated as green grass reed) and the latin name, refer to the unusually grass-like appearance of this species. The species name festuciformis means 'like' (formis) a 'grass' (Festuca is a grass genus). The tufted plants are about 50 cm high with very fine, slightly branched stems. For the non-botanist there is very little difference between the male and female plants, even at the seeding stage. The stems are bright green when young, turning a golden-green when the flowers are forming. The bracts around the inflorescences are small, golden yellow and shiny in the sunlight. Because the stems are so fine, the plant is nearly always in motion with the slightest bit of wind and provides a very pleasing spectacle.

Most restio species grow in rather harsh conditions with dry, hot summers, in very poor soils and often in areas with high winds. This governs the way the plant will look, i.e. in wind swept conditions the plants are quite small. When growing in better soils in gardens and being watered regularly, the plants often look startlingly different. This is the case with Restio festuciformis, which often looks quite dark and half dead in nature, while it is really handsome in a garden environment. However, in nature, the plants seem to live with the fire regime in the area, which means they mostly live longer than seven years, while in a garden environment the plants start dying during their third or fourth year and should be replanted every four years. They have the shortest life span of all restios in a garden environment. Most restio species live between seven and thirty years in the garden.

This species flowers during August or September, often within a year of sowing the seed. The flowers themselves are very small and hardly noticeable. They are wind pollinated and produce seed within a very short period. Depending on the weather, the seed can be ripe in November. This is in sharp contrast with the seeds of most restio species, which ripen only after six months, while some species take more than a year to ripen. Although the plants produce a large amount of seeds, it seems that not all of these are viable. In nature the seed is stored in the upper layer of the soil and produces the new generation of plants after a large fire. Most plants are killed by fire and do not re-sprout.

At one stage this species was thought to be "Vulnerable" in conservation status. However, this might be re-assessed as it is quite common in disturbed areas from Viljoenshof to Houwhoek in Western Cape, South Africa. The plants can be seen in large sweeps in seepages and damp areas at lower altitudes, often on loamy soils. In some of these areas this species grows together in large groups with Elegia cuspidata and E. filacea. Each of these species flowers at different times and has bracts of different colours, this provides an ever-changing colour combination without a flower to be seen.

The economic use of this species is horticultural, as the plants provide a magnificent display when planted in large groups, or as single plants in pots. The plants contain a large amount of tannin and will be grazed by animals only as a last resort. Some of the taller species of the restio family are used for thatching dwellings, but this species is too small for thatching or even for use as a broom.

Growing at Kirstenbosch NBG.

Growing Restio festuciformis

This restio will look attractive in any garden, especially in a modern, low-maintenance garden where grasses are used to provide a changing display during the year. It will also look attractive in a pot on a patio or terrace. It is not known how it will react to cold, Northern Hemisphere climates.

The plants are best grown from seed, which has a fairly good germination rate when treated with smoke or 'Instant Smoke Plus' seed primer. It must be taken into account that about half of the seeds will not be viable, so the seed will have to be sown in an even layer, covering the soil in the seed pan. This species should be grown in full sun, in a well-drained soil and must have plenty of air movement around it. 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. The plants need a regular watering and are not suitable for very dry gardens. They may be fed with standard organic fertilizers, or by sprinkling the surrounding soil with a small amount of ammonium sulfate during the growing season.

Some of the plants will flower within a year of sowing. By the second year, all plants should have grown into handsome specimens and should flower in the course of the year. 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 two new flushes of growth will have appeared already in the annual renewal cycle of the plant. This governs the maintenance of the plant, which should be limited to the regular removal of the brown, dead, outer stems.

References

  • 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 13.
  • LINDER, H.P. 2001. The African Restionaceae. Contributions from the Bolus Herbarium 20 (on CD Rom).
  • BROWN, N., JAMIESON, H. & BOTHA, P. 1998. Grow restios. Kirstenbosch Gardening Series, National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.

Hanneke Jamieson
Kirstenbosch NBG
August 2002


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