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Setaria megaphylla


Water Needs

low; moderate; high

Setaria megaphylla
Broad-leaved Bristle Grass

up to 2 m


Light Conditions

shade; semi-shade; sun




green brown seed; summer

Garden Situation

shade; semi-shade; damp sun; damp shade; container; sun; am sun; pm sun; dry shade; slope bank; paving; narrow beds; wildlife birds; butterfly host


woodland forest; wetland pond; urban streets


thicket; subtropical east coast; Highveld; bushveld savanna; western cape

Rain Season

summer winter

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Lush and tropical, full of texture and movement and also wildlife friendly – it’s our local shade grass, Setaria megaphylla! The common name of Broad –leaved Bristle Grass hints to its textural attractions. A strong-growing tufted grass it looks best in shady to semi-shaded areas, sending up new shoots in spring, the dark pleated leaves giving a new growth-season lushness to the shade garden. Each lance shaped leaf is approximately 15 to 80 cm long, bright green when new, ageing to a darker green; these are unusually pleated longitudinally the along the entire sheath. Leaves reach up before dropping back down towards the tip. Plants seed themselves very easily, forming large clumps quickly. While this may be great for those with large gardens and plenty of shade, it is a grass that needs controlling in a small garden. Treat the unwanted plants as weeds, and keep pulling them out! This is best done when small when they can be pulled very easily by hand. When they get too big, it will have rooted itself strongly and is a lot more difficult to pull out. While it is often recommended for larger gardens, just one clump will feed the little seed eaters in a small garden. In nature, this species plays a major role in water purification as it absorbs excess nutrients from the water and, as it naturally colonises disturbed areas also helps to stabilize soils and prevent soil erosion. In the garden: Setaria enjoys moist areas and is often found in the wild, in forests and dense bushveld, and on river banks and roadsides. If controlled in a garden situation Setaria megaphylla makes a really lovely plant for damp shade, being one of the few grass species that is happy in this situation. It will also grow in average garden soils. The Broad –leaved Bristle Grass will grow and flower in the sun but it never looks as good, nor last as long here so, as there are so few shade grasses why not use it here and rather plant sun lovers in the hotter areas of the garden. A mature clump grows to 1m in height while the long flowering stalks can grow taller than head height; these provide food to seed eaters from spring through to late summer. The seed heads are narrow, green tubes at first until they open out into very pretty, soft and silky flowers. The slightest breeze sets the leaves and seed heads dancing creating a lovely movement that all grass species add to our gardens. Small birds like mannekins love to hold onto the stalks and eat their fill, while the bigger birds like doves will wait for the seeds to drop off, and have their feast on the forest floor. By the end of winter, S. megaphylla can look quite tatty, the leaves turning brown with age, but rather wait until the beginning of spring before you cut them down as there are many wildlife species which hide in the leaves during this cold season. As with many seed kinds of grass, S. megaphylla enjoys growing up through taller shrubs enabling the birds to use the stronger shrub branches as a perch from which to reach the seed heads of the grass plant. Try planting it close to the Plectranthus family of shrubs, or Hypoestes aristata (Ribbon bush) in light to semi-shade. Grow it at the base of shade shrubs like Duvernoia adhatodoides or D. aconitiflora. It can even be grown in the sun if it is placed in the shade of a large shrub: for example, it does well growing up through the spiky leaves of the Aloe arborescens, creating a protective place for the little seed eaters whilst eating. Many of these plants are quite woody at the stems, and clumps of Setaria would make a lovely groundcover, with the tall flowering stalks reaching into the foliage from which the birds can access them. finches; canaries and other seed eating birds eat the seed. The leaves are also used by weavers to build their nests. Aside from attracting a variety of seed eating birds, it is also the host plant to at least 4 butterfly species. Size: up to 2 m Frost: hardy Water needs: low; moderate; high Flower/ seed: summer Garden situation: shade; semi-shade; damp soils; container; sun; am sun; pm sun; dry shade; slope bank; paving; narrow beds; wildlife birds Habitat: woodland forest; water; Region: thicket; subtec; Highveld; bushveld savanna; wc

Setaria megaphylla
Setaria megaphylla
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