red-purple in; spring summer
sun; rockery gravel; grassland; walls; wildlife birds; narrow spaces; clay soils;
fynbos; coastal eastern cape; coastal kzn; urban streets; grassland; urban streets
subtropical east coast; bushveld; highveld; thicket; western cape; karoo; succulent karoo
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Melinis nergivlumis and M. repens Two of our prettiest grasses, commonly found along road sides and in the cracks in pavements, are our local ‘red tops’. In summer they send up long stalks which open into deep red/pink fluffy heads. Favoured by small seed eating birds like Cape White eyes, Mannekins, and Waxbills, the seed heads are also used as soft nesting materials. Happy to establish themselves in disturbed soils, they are very good plants to stabilize the top soils. In fact most grasses are: they have strong root systems which help to prevent the washing away of top soils during heavy rains. Within a natural grassland situation, they would be ‘pruned’ by browsers and fires, so they do need to be cut right back in a garden situation to prevent them from becoming moribund (forming thick mats), which smother the growth of other grassland bulbs and perennials, as well as prevent-ing the rains from penetrating to the soil level. The ‘red tops’ are great garden plants; very easy to grow and needing little in the way of general maintenance and preferring no fertilisers at all, they bring a wonderful element to the garden. The leaves and flowering stalks are fine and light, reacting to the slightest changes in air flow around them so there is constant movement. They glisten with early morning dew, or rain drops after a storm, while the rising and setting sun enhances the glowing red -flowering heads. Not many garden plants respond so well to our daily weather and sun movements, and this really ought to make them more popular than they currently are! They should not be seen as part of a temporary fashion in garden design, but as one of the essential elements of it. The most obvious area in the garden for grasses, is within the grassland bed. Grasslands though are characterised by many gardeners as not really gardening’, or too messy and scrappy. But grasses will do equally well in a normal mixed herbaceous bed. Melinis nerviglumis: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West, Western Cape Melinis repens: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West, Western Cape How to use grasses: • Their soft drooping structure contrasts well with the architectural forms of our Aloe species, or with small woody shrubs. • As the flowering and seeding stalks are quite fragile and bend easily under the weight of even the smallest bird, it is a good idea to plant them close to another plant with a strong structure. This offers the birds a platform from which to reach the seeds.