Sunday, May 22, 2011

The restios have arrived

Last week I fessed up to killing a potted Golden Goddess bamboo due to neglect. Instead of replacing it with another bamboo that would just end up being pot-bound in a few years, I decided to go with a restio. To summarize an earlier post, restios are rush-like plants native to South Africa and Western Australia, areas sharing a similar Mediterranean climate. Superficially resembling reeds or even bamboos, they are related to neither. Instead form their own family, the Restionaceae, or “restios” for short.

In our part of the world, restios are definitely a specialty plant. You can’t just walk into a nursery and expect to find a selection of them. If you’re lucky, you’ll find Cape rush (Chondropetalum tectorum), which seems to be the most common restio in California, but that’s about it.

I wanted some very specific restios, so I had to go the mail-order route. Luckily, one of the very few nurseries in the U.S. that has a decent selections of restios is located in Fort Bragg on the Northern California coast so I could order plants that wouldn’t have to be shipped half way across the country.

I was very excited when my order from Hortus Botanicus showed up less than a week after I had placed it.

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Large box from Hortus Botanicus

The four plants I had ordered were packaged very well. The two in the middle, Rhodocoma capensis, had to be trimmed to fit in the box.

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Four restios (left to right):
Elegia capensis, Rhodocoma capensis (2x), Rhodocoma gigantea

Rhodocoma capensis was what I had picked to replace the defunct Golden Goddess bamboo because it appears to be more drought-resistant than other restios—a plus for any containerized plant. The 1-gallon plant was extremely root-bound so I cut off the very bottom of the root ball and made some cuts all the way around. However, since I’m not really familiar with restios, I didn’t want to be too aggressive. I do know that restios, once planted, don’t like to have their root system disturbed so I hope what I did didn’t hurt the plant too much.

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Rhodocoma capensis, extremely rootbound

Planting the Rhodocoma capensis in the green pot next to the front door didn’t take long at all. Right now, it looks a bit lost in this large pot, but I’m hoping it will soon resume its vigorous growth.

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Rhodocoma capensis in green pot

The second restio I ordered, Elegia capensis, is considered one of the most beautiful members of this plant family. Read this article on the University of British Columbia web site for more information and a few photos.

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Elegia capensis culms and branches

Elegia capensis has the potential to become a relatively large plant, 6-8 feet in height, given enough moisture. I planted it in front of our house outside the fence where it will benefit from the run-off from the lawn and inside planting strip. I’m concerned that there might not be enough space there, but it’s hard to know how well it will do in our area so I’m willing to take a chance. If it ends up being an 8 ft. specimen plant, I will gladly remove some of the neighboring plants to make more room.

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Elegia capensis in our front yard
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Elegia capensis in our front yard

I transplanted the other two restios, Rhodocoma gigantea and another Rhodocoma capensis, into 2-gallon containers for now while I’m trying to determine where they will go. If the Rhodocoma capensis in the green pot does well, I may remove the 2nd Golden Goddess bamboo in the front of the house (planted in an identical green urn) and replace it with the extra Rhodocoma capensis. When the time comes, I’ll know what feels right, and I’ll have the plant I need on hand.

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Rhodocoma gigantea (left), Rhodocoma capensis (right)

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you may remember that I planted another restio, Thamnochortus insignis, outside the front yard fence. While it hasn’t exactly exploded, it looks happy and healthy.

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Thamnochortus insignis, planted in mid-January

Just the other day I noticed that our neighbor across the street has a restio as well. It’s a Cape rush (Chondropetalum tectorum), the most common restio around here—although “common” makes it sound a lot more ubiquitous than it really is. It resembles California rush (Juncus patens), which is very popular with landscape designers at the moment.

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Chondropetalum tectorum in our neighbor’s front yard

I have not been able to find much information about growing restios in Northern California. Everything I’m doing is based on where and how these plants grow in their native climate, but I know that there’s a lot of trial and error ahead. However, I’m so taken with the unique beauty of restios that I’m willing to do what it takes to make them thrive in our garden.

Related blogs:

Fellow blogger DD recently planted some restios in his San Mateo, CA garden. Check out his blog at modernistgardening.info.


5/30/11 UPDATE:

I put the other two restios (the second Rhodocoma capensis and Rhodocoma gigantea) in pots in the front yard.

Here is the second Rhodocoma capensis:

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Second Rhodocoma capensis in green pot next to the front yard (I removed the Golden Goddess bamboo that had been in this pot for three years)
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This is what the front of the house looks like now with the two Rhodocoma capensis

And here is the Rhodocoma gigantea:

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Rhodocoma gigantea, looking a bit lost in this large glazed pot. Hopefully it will fill in quickly.

3 comments:

  1. One thing I've discovered about Rhodocoma capensis that didn't appear in my readings is how it reacts to intense direct sun. I've found that in direct Southern exposure, some of the foliage of R. capensis wittll turn a sort of rusty burnt orange color. It doesn't seem to hurt the plant, and I find it actually to be attractive looking, but it was something I hadn't read about. Oh, and thanks for the plug!

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  2. David, I'm be curious to see if my Rhodocoma capensis will change color too. It's still too early to tell.

    Has your Rhodocoma put on any growth? As you can see from the photos, my two trimmed were to fit the box so I'm hoping there'll be new growth soon. However, since they were so root-bound and I cut off the bottom part of the root ball, I expect them to put their energy into forming new roots first.

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  3. Update: Mine have now put out a lot of new growth. There are whole new culms (is that the correct term in thise case?) that are now several feet tall and starting to sprout branchlets.

    Oh, and I transplanted my three r. capensis today. They were even more root bound than yours, with a root mass so dense I couldn't cut it and white roots growing out the bottom of the pot. But I've read that rhodocoma actually likes having a really dense rhizome, so what might normally be disastrous for another plant may actually be a good thing in this case.

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