Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The loveliest Chondropetalum tectorum that I've ever come across

Chondropetalum tectorum is one of my very favorite plants and, as such, I use it in almost every design I create.  It is a great profile plant, and looks terrific profiled up against a wall.  It is nice in native or Mediterranean gardens, and in my experience, I've seen it do well in either drought-tolerant or regularly watered gardens.  As I get to know the plant better, though, I find that it definitely prefers and looks better in sunnier locations with small amounts of regular water.  In the shade it tends to get a bit droopy.  

A few weeks ago, in the charming small seaside town of Cambria, as I walked with my family along the coast and through the neighborhoods, I came upon the nicest example of a Chondropetalum that I've really ever seen.

It is large, upright, and the brown flower bracts are so beautifully pronounced.  The site, a sunny seaside drought-tolerant garden suited it well.  It is notable that in several adjacent gardens I saw other Chondropetalum's, none of which looked even close to being as nice as this plant.

From San Marcos Growers, one of my favorite online sources for plant info:

"This South African plant forms dense tufted clumps from which arise 2-3 feet tall dark green unbranched stems. The dark brown sheaths at the joints drop off in summer leaving a dark band. Late in the season the stems arch gracefully from the weight of clusters of small brown flowers at the tips. Plant in full to part sun. It is drought tolerant, and appreciates supplemental water in spring. It is hardy to about 20-25 degrees F. It can be successfully planted in seaside gardens, used in relatively dry landscapes or as a plant in the shallows of a water garden. Tolerates a wide soil pH range. The plant widely grown in the US as Chondropetalum tectorum has been reclassified as Chondropetalum elephantinum. This true Chondropetalum tectorum is a smaller plant (about 3 feet tall) from the southern Cape. The larger plant Chondropetalum elephantinum which we still grow as well, is a more robust form up to 6 feet tall from the West Coast. The taxonomic work up on this was done by Dr. Hans Peter Linder who is a professor at the University of Zurich Institute for Systematical Botany and co-author of the "Restios of the Fynbos". Likely, many of the plants in the nursery trade are from seed collected from the larger form. We received this first offering of the "true" Chondropetalum tectorum seed in the spring of 2004. While this new plant should delight gardeners seeking a smaller plant, it will likely confuse many who know the larger plant under this name. In another taxonomic twist Dr. Linder, based on DNA evidence, has most recently included Chondropetalum in the genus Elegia, so this plant would now become Elegia tectorum. We retain the name Chondropetalum tectorum for this plant until such time as this becomes more widely accepted. The name Chondropetalum comes from the Greek words 'chondros' meaning "wheat" or a "big, grain of wheat" and 'petalum' meaning a "flower petal". The origin of the name Elegia is that it is the Latin word ' elegia' which means a "song of lamentation" perhaps in reference to the rustling sound of the culms in the wind. The specific epithet comes from the Latin tectorum meaning 'roofing' in reference to the fact that this species has been used to provide thatching material, though it is likely that the plant most used for thatching was really the larger ones now called Chondropetalum elephantinum [Elegia elephantina]."

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