Restios, Cape reeds, biesies and dekriet are some of the common names that have been applied to members of the South African family of Restionaceae. There are some 480 species of Restionaceae globally, of which 330 are found in the Cape Floristic Region. They are the unique distinguishing family of the fynbos. Simply put, if you can’t see Restios then you are not in fynbos!
The distribution range over all the southern continents has led to suggestions that the family is ancient, dating to as far back as sixty million years ago, when the southern continents were still in close proximity to each other, forming the supercontinent Gondwana.
All Restios are wind pollinated leading to fascinating adaptations of the flowers to release and catch pollen. They are all dioecious (two homes), with male and female flowers borne on separate plants. This is primarily so that plants can’t fertilise themselves and has resulted in structurally different male and female plants.
The male and females can generally be identified quite easily. A local example which I like to show people is Thamnochortus erectus (dekriet). The males hang in the wind and are designed to lose pollen. When in flower you can clearly see the numerous flowers, each with three anthers exposed to the airflow. The females have a different construction with, rigid brown bracts designed to trap pollen. The styles (female reproductive part) are feathery and are well positioned to filter the pollen out of the wind. The females tend to be more stout than the males as they have to make the seeds and therefore need more surface area for photosynthesis.
Many Restios are eaten by rodents, especially the vleirat, Otomys. They fell the plants, rather like a woodcutter fells a tree. They then cut them into shorter lengths, and eat the softer tissue of the nodes under the bracts.
Restios, in particular Thamnochortus insignis, and to a lesser extent T. erectus, are used in the thatching industry. They are collected entirely from the wild, although in some areas in the Albertinia district of the southern Cape they are farmed by removing other fynbos from between the Restios in order to favour their growth. Roofs thatched with high-quality thatch are reputed to last for more than fifty years before they need to be redone.
The restios are also a great group of plants for use in gardening.They add an excellent structural component to the garden, are generally hardy and water-wise. Some such as Ischyrolepis leptoclados shown here prefer damp, shady areas, but the marority prefer well-drained sunny positions for best growth. Some rewarding favourites for gardens include Elegia tectorum (previously called Chondropetalum tectorum), Thamnochortus insignis, Thamnochortus cinereus (silver reed), Elegia capensis (the horsetail restio prefers damp sites), Restio festuciformis and Ischyrolepis subverticillata (broom restio). Few indigenous plants can claim more grace and elegance than members of this group. An ancient and unmistakably Fynbos family.