Melinis repens (Wild.) Zizka subsp. repens
Common names: Natal red top (Eng.); bergrooigras (Afr.)
An attractive, yet hardy tufted grass, which requires little maintenance for a showy display in spring and summer.
Natal Red Top is a short-lived perennial or an annual in certain geographical areas, which grows up to 250–1 500 mm high. The leaf blade is linear, 40–200 mm long and 2–11 mm wide, green; leaf sheaths not overlapping. The red inflorescences with spikelets 2.2–4.0 mm long, appear from in spring to late summer, September–April.
Melinis repens is not threatened, and is Red Listed as Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
It is widely spread throughout subtropical southern Africa, tropical Africa, South America, West Indies and also in western Asia.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Melinis is either derived from the Greek melas, meaning ‘black’, referring to the black seeds, or from the Latin mel, meaning ‘honey’, as some species smell like molasses. The species name repens is Latin and means 'creeping'.
Melinis repens occurs in disturbed areas and is a pioneer species. Birds eat the seeds and use the plant for nesting material.
Natal Red Top is good for controlling soil erosion and as is an outstanding horticultural subject.
Growing Melinis repens
Natal Red Top is easily propagated from seed sown in spring or early summer months, in a well-drained medium, preferably in plugs. Seed collected last summer can be kept in a dry environment, until next spring, when it can be sown. Seed germination in full sun occurs within 2 weeks of sowing. Germinated seedlings must be kept moist and be planted out when roots are packed around the plug and can be easily pulled out, without losing much growing medium. Once planted out, seedling establishment is rapid and flowering is modestly in the first season, peaking in the second and third growing season.
- Fish, L., Mashau, A.C., Moeaha, M.J. & Nembudani, M.T. 2015. Identification guide to southern African grasses. Strelitzia 36: 271–276. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Gibbs Russell, G.E., Watson, L., Koekemoer, M., Smook, L., Barker, N.P., Anderson, H.M. & Dallwitz, M.J. 1990. Grasses of southern Africa. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 58.
- Johnson, I. 2003. Melinis nerviglumis (Franch.) Zizka (Poaceae). PlantZAfrica. Internet 3 pp. http://pza.sanbi.org/melinis-nerviglumis
Phakamani M’ Afrika Xaba
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Grass
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Northern Cape, Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer, Late Summer
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: Red
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy