This is an unusual member of the reed family with lots of fine
'leafy' parts shoots and decorative, arching stems, suitable for
planting in groups or as a feature plant.
first sight this plant does not look very reed-like, as it is much
branched. The plants are about 1.5 m high and about 2 m in diameter.
Each stem has a large amount of finely divided, sterile branches
at the nodes, which give a 'leafy' appearance, and from June to
the end of January the inflorescences add a good 500 mm to the height
of the plant.
male plants have gracefully arching inflorescences, whereas the
female plants have stiff, upright inflorescences. In the southern
Hemisphere an attentive gardener can observe the plants produce
small, greenish yellow male flowers and white female flowers during
August and September. Once ripe the seed is released during December.
Within the first two years of planting the young plants produce
a large amount of fresh green stems and establish a good root system.
During the third year the plant reaches its full height, flowers
and produces seed. In normal garden conditions the plants should
reach an age of at least 10 years.
This plant grows naturally in only a relatively small area in the
Langeberg Mountains in the southern Cape. It is found
from Swellendam in the west to Garcia's Pass in the east here it
favours well-drained habitats at altitudes between 300 and 900 m,
often on shale bands and gentle slopes. Although it grows on relatively
cool, south-facing slopes, the plants are not exposed to frost and
require the growing conditions of a Mediterranean climate with a
reasonable amount of irrigation.
Until fairly recently, the species of Rhodocoma were included
in the large genus Restio. When Rhodocoma was resurrected
by H.P. Linder in 1985, Restio foliosus was treated as a
synonym of Rhodocoma gigantea. In a follow-up study by Linder
in 2001, he decided that Rhodocoma gigantea should be split
into two separate species based on differences in size and flowering
time. Rhodocoma gigantea is taller, has bigger flowers in
autumn and is killed by fire; whereas the species under discussion
is smaller, more rhizotomous, flowers in spring and resprouts after
The species name foliosa is derived from Latin and means
leafy, or full of leaves. Rhodocoma refers to the rosy tufts
of flowers Rhodocoma capensis, the first species named in
Rhodocoma is one of the smaller genera of the family of
Restionaceae, with six described species. Growth forms vary from
stiff, bare stems as in R. fruticosa, to stems with clusters
of many sterile branches at the nodes as in R. gigantea and
R. capensis. A low-growing form of R. capensis is
also an attractive plant and is available commercially.
far as pollination is concerned the male and female inflorescences
provide a good illustration of the efficient way the plants have
adapted to fynbos areas, where windless days are very rare. Male
inflorescences are grouped in drooping spikelets, which gives
the flowers maximum exposure to the wind. The pollen is carried
away and deposited on the female flowers, which are small but have
optimal pollen-catching surfaces formed by prominent feathery styles
on top of the ovary. The ovary becomes a capsule with three partitions,
each with a small, brown seed. The ripe seeds are catapulted out
of the capsule when it bursts open,due to the difference in surface
tension that develops when the capsule is first moistened by the
dew and and then dried by the fierce sunshine.
Traditionally the plant was used as a broom by binding the sturdy
stems with their tufts of foliage to a broomstick. The main use
of the plant at present is in the horticultural industry, where
it is sold commercially as a garden plant.
Growing Rhodocoma foliosa
This plant is very attractive if grown as a feature in between
smaller plants; as an element of a larger border, where it can fulfil
the function of a medium-sized shrub; as part of a Mediterranean
or Fynbos garden, or as a plant in a container.
The seed of the genus Rhodocoma reacts spectacularly to treatment
with smoke or with the 'Instant Smoke Plus' seed primer. Without
the treatment, the germination rate is very poor, less than 5%,
whereas with the smoke treatment the germination can easily exceed
80%. It is not easy to subdivide the plants as the root system is
very sensitive and does not like to be disturbed. The plants are
thus best grown from seed, which is produced in large quantities
by the female plants.
Like most Restionaceae this species must be grown in full sun,
prefers a well-drained soil and plenty of air movement. The plants
adapt to a large variety of soil types. The best time for planting
restios is at the beginning of the rainy season (April-May in Western
Cape), as the plants need regular watering during the first six
weeks to two months after planting. After this initial period the
plants can survive with a little additional watering but grow better
with a normal garden-watering regime. They may be fed with standard
organic fertilizers, a slow-release fertilizer or by sprinkling
the surrounding soil with a small amount of ammonium sulfate during
the growing season. Restios will respond to regular watering by
showing more robust growth, but they are essentially plants which
are adapted to a long, dry summer.
This is a fast-growing species that will be nearly 1 m high one
year after sowing and will have formed a handsome plant three years
after sowing. The plants have spreading rhizomes, which will spread
to form a semi-tufted plant and produce new stems every year. The
individual stems start to deteriorate during the third year but
by that time already two new flushes of growth will have appeared
for the yearly renewal of the plant. This governs the maintenance
of the plant, which only needs a regular removal of the brown, dead
- Andrews, S. & McClintock, D. 1982. Notes on Restio subverticellatus.
The Plantsman 37: 230-233.
- 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.
- 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 13: 209-264
- Linder, H.P. & Vlok, J.H. 1991. The morphology, taxonomy
and evolution of Rhodocoma (Restionaceae). Plant Systematics
and Evolution 175: 139-160.
- Pillans, N.S. 1928. The African genera and species of Restionaceae.
Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa 16: 207-440.
- Linder, H.P. 2001. African Restionaceae. Contributions from
the Bolus Herbarium 20.CD-Rom
Name updated to Rhodocoma foliosa March 2007.YR.