This is a striking and attractive grass-like member
of the large restio family. The plants are very uniform in height
and the floral bracts are a rich red colour for about six months
of the year, before, during and after flowering from the beginning
of autumn to early summer.
fraternus is a very neat tufted plant, up to 0.7 m in height,
with a diameter of about 20 cm at ground level and about 80 cm at
the crown. When the plants are young they produce some finely divided
juvenile branches. The mature plants have simple stems with long
arching male inflorescences and quite stiff long and narrow female
flower spikes. Like all restios the male and female flowers are
on separate plants. The flowers themselves are very small and insignificant.
The rich red-brown colouring is produced by the bracts which surround
the flowers. The flowering season is in autumn to early winter (May
- June) and the small winged seeds are produced in early summer
(October - November). The plants produce a large amount of seeds,
however, as with most other species of the genus Thamnochortus,
most of these seeds are not viable. Thamnochortus fraternus
is not a re-sprouter and is killed by fire. The seed is stored in
the upper layer of the soil and produces the new generation of plants
after a fire.
Thamnochortus fraternus is found on limestone outcrops or
on well drained limestone slopes as well as flat areas from Cape
Point to the mouth of the Gouritz River. It is not an endangered
species as it is locally common and often dominates the vegetation.
The plants grow mostly in large or small groups, looking very dark
brown and providing quite a contrast with the more olive-green vegetation
The family name of Restionaceae is derived from the Latin restis,
which means cord or rope and alludes to the use of the plants in
southern Africa. The more than 400 species in about 40 genera of
the Restionaceae family occur in the winter-rainfall regions of
South Africa and Australia, with outliers in Africa, Madagascar,
Indo-China and Chile. The economic use of plants of this family
has been limited, as the plants contain a large amount of tannin
and so are grazed only as a last resort by cattle and sheep. The
species that have simple un-branched stems are sometimes used for
thatching, while the species with branched stems are used as brooms.
Growing Thamnochortus fraternus
This restio has not been long in cultivation but, as with many
other fynbos plants from limestone soils, it is easy to grow and
adapts well to a garden environment. It prefers full sun and needs
a well-drained soil, and is quite happy in dry conditions, although
it will look more attractive if watered a few times a week. It is
not known how it will react to cold northern hemisphere climates.
The male plants are very attractive on their own as accent plants,
the female plants are less striking. This species is ideal for landscaping
as the plants are very uniform in height and growth habit and look
very good in groups. It would look very good in windswept sea-side
gardens as well as in more formal landscaped areas around office
blocks. It will also look attractive in a pot on a patio or terrace.
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 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.
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 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 season.
The plants will initially be a bit slow to grow, but will have
formed a handsome plant and should flower three years after sowing.
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 already two new flushes of growth will
have appeared for the yearly renewal of the plant. This governs
the maintenance of the plant, which really only needs a regular
removal of the brown, dead stems at the outside part of the plant.
- 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, Number 13.
- Brown, N. Jamieson, H. & Botha, P., 1998, Grow Restios,
Kirstenbosch Gardening Series, National Botanical Institute, Cape
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden