RESTIONACEAE – FYNBOS FAMILY OF NOTE
RESTIOS for ROOKIES
A very basic introduction to the Restionaceae family
The sheets of tawny gold and brown which cover the mountainsides are called Cape reeds, restios or more commonly, Biesies and Dekriet. They are all members of the family Restionaceae, which form one of the most important components of the South African fynbos.
Of the 480 species globally, mainly in the southern hemisphere countries, 330 are found in the Cape Floral Kingdom. These comprise about nineteen genera, fifteen of which are found in the Fernkloof area.
WHAT ARE RESTIOS?
The Restionaceae family (fondly known as restios) is definitive of fynbos – they put the ‘fyn’ into fynbos. If there are no restios, it’s not fynbos. So why are they so overlooked even by fynbos enthusiasts?
What are they? They are often referred to as grasses, but (technically speaking) they are actually reeds. They have no leaves and the jointed stems are solid inside, whereas grasses have leaves and the stems are hollow (think of bamboo). Keep in mind that there are exceptions to every rule.
To adequately describe the features of restios we need to understand the names given to these features.
The stem is a culm. It grows either from a bunch of underground roots (in which case the plant will appear ‘tufted’ like a fountain) or from an underground rhizome (underground stem), in which case the culms growing from it will be spread out along the length of the rhizome.
Culms are green because they have assumed the photosynthesis function of the plant in the absence of leaves.
Sometimes there are some green curly growths around the base of the plant or along the culm. These are not leaves but sterile culms that don’t produce flowers.
The young plant puts out these sterile culms to help build up food reserves through photosynthesis. Then after a year or two, the plant will send up the fertile flowering culms.
As regards reproduction, restios are dioecious – meaning that there are separate male and female plants that produce male and female flowers.