Chondropetalum elephantinum (Large Cape Rush) - This South African plant forms dense tufted clumps from which arise 5 to 8 foot tall dark green unbranched stems. The dark brown sheaths at the joints drop off in summer leaving a dark band at each node. Late in the season the stems arch over from the weight of clusters of small brown flowers at the tips. Male and female plants have remarkably similar flowers but the female flowers are held tighter and are clustered toward the tip of the stems.
Plant in full to part sun. It is a drought tolerant plant, but appreciates supplemental water in springtime during dry years. Cape Rush has proven hardy to around 20 degrees F and tolerates a wide soil pH range.
In its natural habitat Chondropetalum elephantinum grows from Elandsbay south to Blaauberg along the west coast of the Cape of South Africa, often preferring marshy habitat. It can be successfully planted in seaside gardens, used in relatively dry landscapes or used as a plant in the shallows of a water garden. For years this plant was sold in the US as Chondropetalum tectorum until being reclassified in 2003 as Chondropetalum elephantinum. The true Chondropetalum tectorum is a much smaller plant (about 3 feet tall) from a wider area around the southern Cape. 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 still sell plants as "Chondropetalum tectorum" that are from seed collected from the larger form.
In another taxonomic twist Peter Linder and Phillip Moline in 2005 included Chondropetalum in the genus Elegia based on DNA evidence, so this plant would now become Elegia elephantina. We retain the name Chondropetalum elephantinum 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 from 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 means elephant, likely because of this plants large stature. For more information on the larger plant previously sold under this name, see our listing of Chondropetalum elephantinum and our Chondropetalum Page that discusses the early confusion between these two species and their differences. We also grow Native Sons Nursery's select form of Chondropetalum tectorum that is called Chondropetalum tectorum 'El Campo'.
Information about Chondropetalum elephantinum displayed on this page is based on our research about it conducted in our library and gathered from reliable online sources. We include observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery gardens and in other gardens that we have visited, as well as how the crops have performed in containers in our own nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others about this plant when we feel it adds information and particularly welcome hearing from anyone who has any additional cultural recommendations that would aid others in growing it.