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Gardening 101: Cape Rush Grass

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Gardening 101: Cape Rush Grass

November 14, 2018

Cape Rush, Chondropetalum

Cape rush may be what you are looking for if your garden calls out for a plant that looks like an ornamental grass, but doesn’t behave like one at season’s end. Maybe you want the upright, loose structure of a clump of perennial grass, but cutting it down to a sorrowful stub in wintertime sounds sad?

Maybe the garden needs a unique evergreen structure to it, with some soft movement too, reminiscent of water. Oh, and the plant can’t be fussy or fussed by deer. Well, you and your garden are in luck, thanks to the grass-like reeds of Chondropetalum.

Is cape rush the right plant for your garden? Read on to learn everything you need to know:

Chondropetalum creates an airy scrim (also shown in the top photo of the post) at the edge of a garden in Mill Valley, California. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.
Above: Chondropetalum creates an airy scrim (also shown in the top photo of the post) at the edge of a garden in Mill Valley, California. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

Hailing from the Cape region of South Africa, this evergreen grass-like plant will surely introduce some interest into your garden. What makes this plant agreeable and useful is that it can incorporate into many garden styles. I have planted this rush on the banks of water gardens, near rock waterfalls to cascade over an edge, near swimming pools, even in dry stream beds to lend the illusion of water.

Also consider this fine-textured rush for modern or Asian container plantings, either solo or mixed with other plant players, especially broadleaf and bold choices like, my favorite, agaves.

Cape rush. Photograph via Monrovia.
Above: Cape rush. Photograph via Monrovia.

Chondropetalum comes from the Greek words chondros, meaning big grain of wheat, and petalum, meaning a flower petal. The wheat reference is understandable when you look closely at this rush in the late season when the stems arch gracefully from the weight of small brown flower clusters perched at the tips.

Interestingly, this rush is used as roof thatching material within its southern African range. While valuable sounding, this use can’t be recommended unless someone tells me different. Instead, add chondropetalum to your garden designs for an architectural feel that defines a space.

Two varieties to know about:

Chondropetalum tectorum

Chondropetalum tectorum, shown here in the background, creates dense tufted clumps with tall dark green stems. At maturity it reaches a height and diameter of 3 feet and is hardy to \25 degrees Fahrenheit. Photograph by Stephanie Falzone via Flickr.
Above: Chondropetalum tectorum, shown here in the background, creates dense tufted clumps with tall dark green stems. At maturity it reaches a height and diameter of 3 feet and is hardy to 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Photograph by Stephanie Falzone via Flickr.

Chondropetalum elephantinum

Chondropetalum elephantinum is much taller variety but with the same look and style as its smaller relative. Photograph by Daderot via Wikimedia.
Above: Chondropetalum elephantinum is much taller variety but with the same look and style as its smaller relative. Photograph by Daderot via Wikimedia.

 C. elephantinum can grow to 5 by 6 feet at maturity and is hardy to 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cheat Sheet

  • Cape rush successfully adapts to a variety of climates from seaside gardens, dry landscapes, and even shallow pools of a water garden.
  • Chondropetalum performs as a slope stabilizer so plant on hillsides where the naturally cascading shape provides a flowing feel.
  • Deer resistant, cape rush is relatively pest free.
  • Pairs perfectly with equally heat-loving and rugged plants including salvias, succulents, lavenders, and other ornamental grasses.

Keep It Alive

  • Plant in full to part sun; too little sun will cause the stems to flop over.
  • A wide range of soil types is accepted.
  • Is drought tolerant once established, but appreciates supplemental water, especially in spring.
  • Trim back stems to the base that awkwardly enter pathways or arch too much on plant neighbors. For a neat and tidy look, you can cut back old foliage before new stems emerge but only if you must.

See more growing tips at Cape Rush: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated Garden Design 101 guides to Grasses 101. See more of our favorite perennial grasses and ways to use them in a landscape:

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