A very elegant reed-like plant with slightly arching branches which
have whorls of finely divided, feathery looking foliage. This species
can be grown as part of a mixed border or in containers and grows
to a height of 1 to 2 m.
Tufted, compact plants of 1 to 2 m high, the diameter at the base
growing up to 1 m. The stems are quite sturdy and have distinct
nodes like a bamboo. At each node there is a thick whorl of finely
divided, fertile branches, giving the whole plant a feathery appearance.
The colour of the foliage-like branches is a deep green with small
brown inflorescences at the tips. The growth form of this species
is quite unique in that all the branchlets are fertile, in contrast
with other restios where the finely divided side stems are not fertile.
The branches are slightly arching and this gives the plants a very
elegant appearance. The plants can reach a height of 1 to 1.5 m
in three years and with age become slightly more upright and can
reach a height of 2 m after five to seven years. Male and female
plants flower sporadically from September to November, the female
flowers are a deep pink, whereas the male flowers are pale yellow-green.
Female flower head
This is a very widespread species and can be found along roadsides,
streamsides, in little pockets of soil in between rocks, and in
damp loamy soils from the Cederberg in the Western Cape all along
the inland margins of the Cape Fold Mountains to Grahamstown in
the Eastern Cape. Driving through the Little Karoo in a very dry
and hot landscape, it is quite surprising to find a soft-looking
restio like Rhodocoma capensis growing in a drainage ditch along
the road, covered in red dust. It is a very hardy and tough species,
and very adaptable. The plants have proved hardy in cold climates,
withstanding temperatures of - 7 ºC when provided with good
protection in the form of a deep layer of mulch.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The species name capensis refers to the fact that this plant
can be found throughout the southern part of South Africa, the old
Cape Province. It is part of the large family of Restionaceae, a
southern hemisphere family of more than 400 species of about 40
genera in southern Africa, Australia, Madagascar, Indo-China and
Chile. About 320 species occur in South Africa, most of them in
the Cape Floristic Region. Rhodocoma is a relatively small genus
with six described and published species, R. gigantea and R. capensis
being the best known. Thamnochortus insignis is the best
known restio in South Africa for its widely used, long-lasting thatching
Like all other Restionaceae, Rhodocoma capensis is wind pollinated.
The seeds are very small and look like tiny dark brown nuts. When
the seeds are ripe, they fall on the ground and remain in the top
layer of the soil till the circumstances are right for germination,
normally during autumn after a fire. An interesting observation
is that the very different looking male and female flowers are most
visible during soft, soaking rains or a fine drizzle when they flower
during the late spring. This might be to improve the pollination
process because the pollen becomes heavier when moisture-laden and
is distributed as it were, close to home. This is one of the few
restios that has striking flowers, they are small but of a deep
pink colour in the female plants and light yellow-green in the male
Uses and cultural aspects
Since its introduction into the horticultural market, Rhodocoma
capensis has proved to be a popular plant for gardens and large
formal plantings, with its elegant, evergreen appearance. This is
the most commercially useful aspect of the species as the foliage
is too soft for the traditional use as a broom, while the high tannin
content of the plant makes it unpalatable for animals except for
the very young growth.
Growing Rhodocoma capensis
Rhodocoma capensis is best grown from seed. The seed is
very difficult to collect in large quantities as it is very small
and is released by the plants as soon as it is ripe. By the time
the seeds are ripe it is also difficult to differentiate between
the male and female plants. However, the germination rate of Rhodocoma
is very high, up to 80% when the seed is sown at the right time
of the year and treated with smoke or a solution of smoke water.
The seed should be sown in autumn or early spring when the night
temperature is around 10 º C and the day temperature 15º
C higher. Division of the plants is not easy, the plants can only
be divided in quite large pieces and re-growth is slow. This should
be done during the cold winter months or during late winter/early
spring in the northern hemisphere.
Rhodocoma capensis can be planted in large groups in formal
plantings, in mixed borders or in containers. The plants should
be well mulched with pine bark or any other kind of rough mulch
and can be fed occasionally with an organic fertilizer. They need
to be watered regularly.
When the plants are planted in the right place, in full sun and
with plenty of air movement around them, they are very hardy and
do not seem to suffer from many pests or diseases. The only pest
this species seems to suffer from now and again is a small spider
or mite which spins a web around a bunch of stems. If the web is
not removed by hand as soon as possible, that part of the plant
References and further reading
- Brown, N., Jamieson, H. & Botha, P. 1998. Grow restios.
Kirstenbosch Gardening Series. National Botanical Institute, Cape
- Dorrat-Haaksma, E. & Linder, H. P. 2000. Restios of the
Fynbos. The Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape plants. A conspectus
of the Cape flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National
Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Linder, H.P. 1985. Conspectus of the African species of Restionaceae.
Bothalia 15: 387-503.
- Linder, H.P. 1991. A review of the southern African Restionaceae.
Contributions from the Bolus Herbarium No. 13.
- Smith. C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs
of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35.