Monday, May 17, 2010

Elegia capensis

This is a tall, dark green, elegant plant with large, decorative, papery sheaths along the stems. For a really good picture of this plant go to

The genus Elegia, belongs to the family Restionaceae. Elegia has 35 species. The name Elegia is presumed to come from the Greek elegeia, a song of lamentation, and may be a reference to the rustling sound of the papery sheaths and bracts in the breeze. The genus is commonly known as the South African Thatching Bush in reference to its usefulness in being used as a roofing thatch.

This plant has many common names including besemriet, bergbamboes,  fonteinriet, Fonteinbush, katstert, kanet, horsetail restio many of which are South African in origin.

This is a very widespread species in or near the mountain ranges of the western, southern and eastern Cape, as far as Port Elizabeth. The plants grow from near sea level to an altitude of 1600 m in fairly poor, sandy soils but always near watercourses, in seepages on mountain slopes or in areas where groundwater is present.

Growing in damp places this clumping, bamboo like, rush like plant sends up stems from the ground which are fluffy green stems usually up to 1.5 metres high but in good places it can grow up to 3 metres high.

These main stems give rise to clusters of fine secondary stems in fluffy masses at the nodes. All the green parts are stems not leaves and it is this part of the plant that has the chlorophyll which converts sunlight water and carbon dioxide into plant nutrients (sugars) for growth. The true leaves look like small brown bracts.

The flowers are small and appear at the end of the green stems. Interestingly the male and female flowers are on different plants and they can look quite different to each other and at one time they were classified as different species that’s how different they looked.

Elegia capensis is really good in the garden as a foliage plant best planted near water, a small stream or pond. As long as the plants have a regular supply of water a well-drained soil and full sun or very light shade, they should do well in a frost-free location.

Traditionally, E. capensis has been used as a broom by binding the sturdy stems with their tufts of foliage to a broomstick. Today it is used as cut foliage and the stems when picked and kept in water will stay fresh for several weeks. The plants produce a new flush of stems every year and deteriorate during the third year when these older stems should be removed.

For a really good picture of this plant go to

1 comment:

Noel Morata said...

i am a fan of restios, unfortunately they are not easy to find in hawaii...i'm sure they would not want to import something like this, grasses are dangerous growers here...i have some plants i'm hoping you can help me identify on my last post?