My first restio

Restios are rush-like flowering plants native to the southern hemisphere, especially Australia and South Africa where they often dominate their native environment. In South Africa, they are found in the fynbos, the scrubland of the Western Cape characterized by its Mediterranean climate with winter rainfall. The fynbos is part of the Cape Floral Region, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If I ever come into money, that part of the world is high on my bucket list travel destinations.

Thamnochortus insignis

Some restios superficially resemble bamboos, others reeds and yet others horsetails (Equisetum hyemale). Since restios have no leaves, photosynthesis takes place in the green stems. The stems sometimes have papery sheaths, very much like the culm sheaths on bamboos.

In the landscape, restios can be a commanding presence. The tallest species, like Rhodocoma gigantea and Calopsis paniculata, can grow to 9 ft. and add great structure to a garden.

Thamnochortus insignis—close-up of stems

Restios are easy to care for. Give them a place in full sun, well-drained soil on the acidic side and good air circulation, and they are happy. Once established, most of them are quite drought-tolerant. Restios are typically able to withstand temperatures down to 20°F or even lower.

While restios haven’t entered the horticultural mainstream yet, at least not in California, I do see Cape rush (Elegia tectorum, sometimes still listed by its older name Chondropetalum tectorum) fairly regularly at larger nurseries.

Thamnochortus insignis—new shoot

My first restio, however, is Thamnochortus insignis, commonly called “thatching reed” or “dekriet”. I came across it on Thursday at the Landscape Cacti & Succulents Nursery at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. The first thing I noticed were the brown brush-like flower bracts bobbing on top of thin stems. The stems reminded me of a horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) and are highly decorative, especially viewed up close. (Play this short video from Roger’s Gardens; you’ll see Thamnochortus insignis near the beginning.)

Thamnochortus insignis—bracts

The plant I bought is in a 2-gallon container and currently 4½ ft. tall. It has the potential to grow to 6-8 ft. but since it’s so open and airy, it doesn’t have a heavy, intrusive presence. Our specimen will stay in a container and live somewhere near the front door where its beautiful structure can be admired all year.

Thamnochortus insignis—juvenile growth. Mature plants only have long green stems with seasonal flowers. As with all restios, male and female flowers are on separate plants.

The next restio I will be looking for is the broom reed (Elegia capensis). From its culms and culm sheaths to its feathery growth, it reminds me a lot of bamboo—in particular Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ‘Aztecorum’) or one of the Chusquea species.

I love it when I discover new plants. It always makes me wonder how many other plants are out there that I don’t know about yet.

5/22/2011 UPDATE: more restios planted.

Here are some short but interesting articles about restios:


  1. Ah cool! I wonder what the overwintering strategy for these plants, specifically Elegia capensis is? Will it go dormant if I put it in my garage for the winter? Looks like something worth checking into.

  2. (your post is trapped in a glitch, can't pick it on Blotanical, so I'll comment instead)

    We have planted two of those Calopsis, bit wary, quite how big they are going to grow.

  3. Alan, I have no idea if Elegia capensis would overwinter in your garage. I tried to find some info but wasn't successful. I'll do some more research.

    Diana, sorry for the hiccup with Blotanical. It seems to have fixed itself. Seeing how you live in the Western Cape, do you know if Elegia capensis can be overwintered inside (see Alan's question)? And how large were your calopsis when you planted them? The more I read about restios, the more fascinated I am.

  4. Where did you get your restio(s)? I've been looking in the Bay Area and haven't found any yet.

  5. DD, I bought my Thamnochortus insignis at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. They sell plants at the gift store.

    Plus, the Landscape Cacti & Succulents Nursery has a sale every Thursday from 10:30-1:30 (see here). Right next to their plant tables are the tables with South-African natives, including at least 3 kinds of restios.

    Other than that, did you try the Dry Garden in Oakland? They might have restios as well.

  6. Thanks for the tip. I just ordered a Rhodocoma Gigantea online. I'm looking for some smaller ones to also add, probably in some of the places I had been considering sedges, rushes, or other ornamental grasses. I'll check out the links you provided. Thanks for the tip!

  7. DD, that Rhodocoma gigantea looks beautiful and seems to be quite hardy as well. Where did you buy yours if I may ask? I may just have to make room for one.

  8. Gerhard, I got the R. gigantea from Hortus Botanicus, which are located in Fort Bragg, CA.

  9. Hi Gerhard,

    My R. gigantea (also my first restio) has arrived. You can see pics of it here:

  10. David, thank you very much the link to your blog. I will definitely follow your progress, especially since I like Mid-Century Modern.

    That's a very nice-looking plant you received. I think I will order some restios from Hortus Botanicus as well.

  11. Hi Gerhard,

    I just got 3 more restios today, this time Rhodocoma capensis. Photos can be found here:

    Have a good weekend!

  12. David, the rhodocoma are VERY nice. And these were 1-gallon plants? I've got to order some too.

    I finally planted my Thamnochortus insignis in the ground yesterday in a spot where it'll get full sun. Can't wait to see it take off.

  13. Yes, those are 1 gallon plants, although they're just about bursting the seams. I'm going to need to repot them, or plant them in the ground, very soon.

  14. I hold the National Collection of Restionaceae (tall growing) here in UK. My website may be of interest to all lovers of restios.

    Best wishes

    Michael Woolls Blanco

  15. Michael, thank you so much for jumping in and giving the link to your web site. What a great resource you have put together!


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