Elegia cuspidata

Family : Restionaceae
Common names : blombiesie (Afr.)

At last, a restio that you will not struggle to identify! Elegia cuspidata has distinctive features and is suited for planting in a Cape Peninsula wetland garden.

Elegia cuspidata has sturdy upright stems and grows 0.5–1.1 m tall. Plants stay neatly clumped as they do not have a spreading rhizome and culms are unbranched. Chestnut brown sheaths enclose each node and as the culm grows the sheaths splay outwards and drop off. They leave behind a circular ring known as an abscission line. This occurs from the base of the culm upwards.

Male and female flowers occur on separate plants. Inflorescences are dark brown and can sometimes appear almost black. Individual flowers are almost microscopic and can number anywhere from 50 to over 500 flowers per inflorescence.

Each flower sits within a bract which has a long-pointed tip. These bracts give the inflorescence its distinctive brush-like appearance.

Elegia cuspidata female flowering inflorescence

Elegia cuspidata female flowering inflorescence

The easiest way to tell male from female is at flowering time. This occurs through the summer months. The male plant produces pollen and the female plant has white fluffy styles that receive the pollen and form the seed.

Tiny shiny brown seeds are released in autumn.

Conservation status
Least Concern.

Distribution and habitat
Elegia cuspidata is a coastal species endemic to the Western Cape. It occurs in the sandveld along the West Coast, along the Palmiet River in the Kogelberg, and on the Peninsula at Cape Point. It forms extensive dominant populations in seasonally wet marshy areas at an altitude of below 300 m. Soils are acidic and sandy.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
African Restionaceae contains 8 genera made up of ± 350 species. Restios are one of the main components of fynbos and are found growing mainly in the Western & Eastern Cape. Other well-known species within Elegia are Elegia capensis and Elegia tectorum.

The specific name cuspidata is Latin for pointed or, in botanical usage, abruptly tipped with a sharp rigid point. This refers to the pointed tips of the floral bracts.

The genus name Elegia comes from the Greek word elegos which means ‘song of lamentation', as in the English word elegy. This may refer to the sound restios make while they are moving in the breeze.

Summer in the Western Cape is characterized by strong southeasterly winds. These winds are responsible for pollinating restios. If you tap the culms of flowering male restios you will see big clouds of dust-like pollen being released. Bees and beetles are always in attendance when male plants flower but they are stealing the pollen for themselves and not performing any pollination function.

Uses and cultural aspects
Elegia cuspidata is used as a landscape plant or as cut greenery in the floral trade.

Growing Elegia cuspidata

Elegia cuspidata requires the following growing conditions to flourish in your garden:

Full sun for most of the day, good air circulation and preferably exposure to wind. If light or air circulation are not sufficient, plants may become weak and spindly and turn yellow. This restio naturally occurs in seasonally flooded marshes in acidic soils. It experiences hot windy summers and cold rainy winters with its feet submerged in water. At Kirstenbosch it is planted in well-drained soils and, provided it receives enough water, grows well.

This plant is suited to a more naturalisticly themed garden where it can be combined with other fynbos species with similar growing requirements. For example Erica patersonii, Mimetes cucullatus, Mimetes hirtus, Erica margaritacea, Witsenia maura, Zantedeschia aethiopica, Watsonia species. Plant in large swathes as a filler with colourful flowering shrubs popping about above and in between.

Restios are relatively disease-free plants, and no major pests and diseases are likely to affect Elegia cuspidata.

There are two ways to propagate restios: dividing the rhizome and sowing seed.

Dividing the rhizome entails digging up an established plant and breaking the rhizome into pieces at least 150 mm long. Plant these pieces into the ground or into pots. Water them well after planting. This is done during winter before the plant sends up new culms. The plants will take at least a year to start growing strongly and produce new shoots.

At Kirstenbosch we use seed propagation for all the restios. This is a fast and easy method to use if you require large quantities of plants. The seed is planted in April–May (autumn) when the days are warm (20–30°C) and the nights are cool (10–15°C). Treat the seed prior to planting with Instant Smoke Primer. This smoke treatment greatly improves germination. Seed is planted into seed trays 100 mm deep and filled with a well-drained medium. Plant the seed thickly as 50 % of restio seed is not viable. Cover the seed lightly with sand, and water. Place the trays in a light well-ventilated area. Keep the trays moist but not wet. After 3–4 weeks germination should take place. Once the plants have developed a few small culms, after ± 6 – 12 weeks, and are 30 mm tall, they can be pricked out into 6-packs or plug trays. Use a fynbos potting medium consisting of 1 part loam, 8 parts bark and 3 parts sand.

Harden off the plants in a semi-shaded area until they are growing strongly (± 4 weeks) before placing in the sun. Once the roots start to show through the bottom of the trays they can be potted into small black bags. After growing on they will be ready to be planted in the garden.

Plant out into the garden at the start of the rainy season and mix in some well rotted compost into the planting hole. Water well if no rain is predicted. Maintain plants by removing old dead culms. Depending on growing conditions plants will need to be replaced after about 5 years. They will last longer than this in the garden but do tend to become untidy with age.

References and further reading

  • Booyens, J. 2008. Honeybee pollen thieves, a one-sided relationship with restios. Veld & Flora 94(3): 148–149.
  • Dorrat-Haaksma, E. & Linder, H. P. 2000. Restios of the Fynbos. The Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town.
  • Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J.C. 2000. Cape plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
  • Linder, H.P., & Hardy, C.R. 2010. A generic classification of the Restioneae (Restionaceae), southern Africa. Bothalia 40, 1: 1–35.
  • Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. 2009. Red List of South African plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.


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Louise Nurrish
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
June 2011