Species distribution and density. Darker squares represent higher density of members of this family.


Cape reed family

Restionaceae is one of the families that characterises the Fynbos Biome and here it largely occupies the position grasses maintain in other biomes. In South Africa it has been a sought-after building material that has been put to multiple uses, from building basic shelters in the veld, to thatching the famous Cape Dutch houses dating back to the 17th century.


A southern hemisphere family, with most species in southwestern South Africa and western Australia. Also occurs in Chile, Madagascar, New Zealand and Malaysia.

Number of genera in the world

ca. 55

Number of species in the world

ca. 490

Number of genera in the Flora of southern Africa region



Number of species in the Flora of southern Africa region


Well-known southern African genera

Cannomois, Chondropetalum, Elegia, Hypodiscus, Restio, Rhodocoma, Thamnochortus, Willdenowia

Growth forms

Rush-like, tufted, rhizomatous or stoloniferous.


Found in marshes, swamps, seasonally dry, fire-prone habitats, from sea level to altitudes of up to 2 500 m.

Flagship species

Cannomois virgata (bellreed; bergbamboes, besemriet [A]) is a truly magnificent example of one of the large restio species, which can become bamboo-like and reaches up to 3 m in height. It is quite widespread in the Western and Eastern Cape where it is common on moist mountain slopes and along streams. Inflorescences of male plants can be up to 0.5 m long with hundreds of small spikelets clustered on branchlets at the nodes. Female plants have fat spindle-shaped spikelets, each bearing several large black fruits.


Significance of the family

A number of species are extensively used for thatching. Today the main species used is Thamnochortus insignis, which is harvested and even cultivated in the Albertinia area of the Western Cape. It is used in thematic or waterwise gardens and has become a signature/feature plant in flower beds or potted gardens. The horticultural importance of various restio species is continuously being explored and more and more species are becoming available in the trade.

Diagnostic characters

Grass- or rush-like ; plants usually dioecious (separate male and female plants). Stems mostly solid and circular in cross section . Leaves mostly reduced to sheaths in older plants ; culms with abscission rings where sheaths have dropped off ; sheaths split down to the base . Inflorescences at the tip of culms . Flowers included in spikelets , occasionally with conspicuous spathes. Fruit a capsule or a nut .

Did you know?

Roofs thatched with high quality restios can last for up to 50 years before they need to be redone.