Brightening up our mini-grassland this autumn are the seeded plumes of the Golden Bristle Grass. Not only do they catch our eye, but they also catch the attention of seed-eating birds.
Also known as Golden Millet and South African Pigeon Grass, amongst other names, there are several varieties of Setaria sphacelata that are indigenous to Africa. The name Setaria derives from the Latin word for bristle
Naturally, the Golden Bristle Grass occurs in damp soils in grassland and woodland and even swampy areas, and in South Africa in the south eastern regions. In many African countries it is used as a pasture grass and it is also cut and used as hay. Once it has been established it can be heavily grazed. It has proved to be such a useful fodder crop that it has been introduced as such in other countries too, for example, in the Philippines and Australia. It is a nutritious plant, but as it is high in oxalic acid, especially when it is young, it is not suitable for feeding horses or lactating cows.
In this picture the seeds can clearly be seen. Unlike some similar grasses, the bristles remain on the stem even as the seeds mature and fall to the ground
The mini-grassland in our garden was established with a variety of grasses by the people who lived here prior to us. Over the years the composition of grasses and grassland plants has changed, and this year the Golden Bristle Grass has become dominant for the first time.
It has proved to be a good companion to this golden-coloured Kniphofia plant that comes up every year and flowers in late summer
The seeds are particularly favoured by the Bronze Mannikins who visit the grassland to help themselves to seeds
The Golden Bristle Grass seeds also attract the colourful Common Waxbill, which is a far from common but very welcome visitor in our garden
I hope that anyone with the space for wild grasses in their gardens will be encouraged to experiment and try planting some grasses. You will need only a small patch or even a pot, which get a bit of sun. Not only are wild grasses decorative, but they provide a more attractive and natural source of food for seed-eating birds than bird feeders do.
Decorated with shiny droplets of rain, the Golden Bristle Grass seed heads bow down under the weight of the water
This year in our garden grassland, once the seed has gone and the seed heads dry off, we will cut back the grasses and use the stems and dry leaves to top-dress the vegetable patch. This year we are experimenting with aspects of the no-dig method of gardening, and the dry straw and leaves from these grasses will be good to add to the other garden clippings that we layer on top of the beds in a kind of top-down sheet method of composting.
FAO Grassland Species http://www.fao.org/ag/agp/agpc/doc/gbase/data/pf000316.htm; PlantZAfrica.com https://www.plantzafrica.com/plantqrs/setariamegaphyl.htm
Posted by Carol