A open letter to nurseries growing Chondropetalum in California: - October 24, 2005
An interesting situation has developed that was caused by a recent nomenclatural change. Since 1988 many nurseries in California have grown the plant we have all called Chondropetalum tectorum. Last year San Marcos Growers was notified by Rachel Saunders of Silverhill Seed Company that Dr. Hans Peter Linder (University of Zurich Institute for Systematical Botany and co-author of the "Restios of the Fynbos") had determined that the plant originally identified as C. tectorum was actually C. elephantinum and that the "true" C. tectorum was a much smaller plant (I unfortunately have not seen this work written so I am trusting Rachel on this!). Because of this we are now calling the plant that we have grown for all these years by the name C. elephantinum. We did this to be correct but also because we had put into production the "true" smaller C. tectorum while continuing to grow the larger C. elephantinum.
We knew that this would cause confusion as it was likely that many growers would not make the name change and the California horticultural trade would end up with one plant using two names while the true C. tectorum would get mixed up in the shuffle. Our thought was that we would have a while to sort it out as our crops of the "true" C. tectorum would not be ready for sale until later this winter. To keep the plants separate we had decided to keep them in different colored pots and to give them common names that reflected their size, small cape rush for C. tectorum and large cape rush for C. elephantinum. This "wait and see" strategy seemed fine until I received a phone call that in turn has prompted me to write this letter to others growing Chondropetalum in California.
In late October I received a call from Jim Duggan, who works as a consultant to the Getty Museum. This was followed by phone conversations with Michael Dehart, Getty Horticulturist and Lynne Tjomsland, Getty Manager of Grounds and Gardens. The Getty Museum was in the middle of installing a massive planting of Chondropetalum (specified as C. tectorum) and they were worried that some of the plants, from several different sources, were different species. They had also noted that San Marcos Growers had changed the name of the plant that we were currently offering to C. elephantinum while other nurseries were still selling it as C. tectorum. It was imperative for them to have the large plant they had always known as C. tectorum (in reality C. elephantinum) as their spacing was 8 foot on center and they needed the plants to approach 6 feet tall.
Unfortunately we could only guarantee that the plants that came from San Marcos Growers were the large form but, based on information from Rachel Saunders of Silverhill Seed Company, I speculated that it was likely that plants from other sources were probably the larger form as well. Rachel told me that:
"Chondropetalum elephantinum is very common, grows in huge colonies on the west coast and produces large amounts of seed. It is also close to Cape Town, so we always have large amounts of seed from those plants. Since we started the business, we have been collecting from those plants, and most of the seed sold came from them."
I contacted a couple of other nurseries who have been growing this plant to get their take on the situation and while I still believe that all of the plants that the Getty Museum received are likely to be the large C. elephantinum, there is a chance that some growers have seamlessly gone from growing Chondropetalum elephantinum to growing the "true" and smaller Chondropetalum tectorum. Seed sources such as Sandeman Seeds, B & T World Seeds (both French seed Companies) and Silverhill Seed Company in South Africa, offer both species and if one was to order Chondropetalum tectorum from these companies they would now get a plant that would be different from what they ordered a couple years ago and what is currently in the horticultural trade under that name. To complicate this, some nurseries have ordered from other seed suppliers and others are propagating the plant by division.
I am sending out this rather long message (my apologies for this) to try to get the story straight and to standardize the names California nurseries are using for these plants. I would like to hear back from everyone with your thoughts on this. I have also set up a webpage at http://www.smgrowers.com/info/chondropetalum.asp that I will update that includes a link to this message and the history of Chondropetalum's introduction in California (as I know it - please correct me if you know otherwise). Please also let me know if I can forward your comments or use them on this webpage. I am sending this first email as blind carbon copy (bcc) so addresses are not made public but with the permission of those that respond I will send them carbon copy (cc) so we can all communicate with each other.
San Marcos Growers
October 24, 2005
In the most recent treatment of these plants Peter Linder has included both of these species in the genus Elegia, making the correct names Elegia elephantina and Elegia tectorum.