Restio Plant Care
What are Restio’s?
Restio’s – short for the plant family Restionaceae. This is a family of over 500 species of perennial evergreen, grass-like plants in 58 genera. They are spread across the Southern Hemisphere from South America to New Zealand and Australia but, their greatest abundance is in South Africa. Here there are some 350 species, and these are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Western Cape.
To look at Restio’s are like a hybrid of grass, bamboo, rush and horsetail – but are related to none of them. In structure they vary in size from small 10cm plants to 3m giants. A Restio consists of the above ground photosynthetic stems or culms and the below ground rhizome and roots(these are not running rhizomes as in some bamboo). Most Restio’s have a medium sized rhizome with the resulting growth form being a narrow based plant from which the culms splay out in an elegant green fan. The big 3m Restio’s have a more vigorous rhizome which in time can produce a large stand of culms. Some are tussock forming species and have no rhizome at all.
All Restio’s are dioecious, that is male and female are on seperate plants. The flowers are usually small and are wind pollinated.
Restio’s generally occur naturally on nutrient poor acidic soils however, 15 species occur on limestone soils and 8 upon alkaline sands.
The Cape Floristic Region is the real home of the Restio family where they can dominate much of the landscape. They appear to date back to the Crataceous period – some 60 million years ago. This means they were around long before grasses and sedges. Perhaps the only grass-like angiosperms that lived when dinosaurs walked the earth. Based on fossil records it is generally accepted that Restio’s have an ancient Gondwana land origin. This would explain there presence from South America to New Zealand when the land masses had not broken up and the plant group had already radiated into each of the future regions of the Southern Hemisphere.
Restio’s do best in open sunny positions with good air movement – they like the wind! Free draining soils with a PH of 7.5 and below are prefferable – thats neutral to acid. Being mostly from mediterranean climates they are well adapted to summer drought however, during long dry periods the plants will be greener and more lush with an occasional watering. They are not for boggy or water-logged soils.
Most are suitable for growing in pots, especially in their early years. Choose a free draining compost, we use a mixture of peat and bark, about 70/30. In pots keep plants moist at all times, they dislike drying out in containers. Watch out during frosty weather in winter as this can dry pots out very quickly. Occasional feeds of diluted liquid seem very benificial.
Restio’s look very different as young plants having a juvenile growth form of fluffy green, fairly lax stems. In the third year they start to send up more mature culms turning into there elegant adult selves.
The majority of Restio’s are hardy down to about minus 7 or 8 degrees C. Some are tougher than that withstanding temperatures down to minus 14 degrees C undamaged. Alot is down to growing conditions and age. The older a plant the tougher it becomes, established plants having the ability to re-grow if damaged by hard frost. Plants in pots will not be so hardy, especially as frost has the effect of drying the pots out. But plants in pots can be moved into a light and airy frost free position just while the cold snap lasts.
Plants in the ground can be heavily mulched with bark to protect the rhizomes. Culms could be protected with fleece. If plants lose the culms to frost do not be in a hurry to cut them away, wait until new growth appears before doing so.
Restio’s are generally trouble free plants to grow not succumbing to either pest or disease. All they require is an occasional tidy to remove dead, damaged or wayward culms. This is easily done by cutting them out as close to the ground as you can.
Another thing to mention about Restio’s is that they all make fantastic cut foliage lasting a long time in water and they dry well too – fantastic.