Taisha completes the series on South African plants and biomes with this entry. It is also her last official day as a work-learn student with Botany Photo of the Day, though there are about a half-dozen other entries she has written that will be posted while the new students learn the ropes. Thank you, Taisha. She writes:
Today we feature the grasslands biome of South Africa with photographs of Themeda triandra, which is known as rooigrass in Afrikaans (“red grass”). These images (image 1| image 2) were uploaded to the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool by Marie Viljoen@Flickr. The first image was originally posted on Marie’s blog, where she later posted a poem about Themeda triandra by South African poet, Antjie Krog. Thanks again, Marie!
The grasslands, also known locally as Grassveld, is the largest biome within South Africa. It is found mainly on the high central plateau of South Africa as well as the inland areas of the Eastern Cape. This biome neighbours the savanna, thicket, and Nama Karoo biomes. This region is relatively flat, though it can vary between sea level and 2850m elevation. The semi-arid to arid grasslands have varying temperatures, with frost being common. Precipitation ranges between 600-1000 mm, with rainfall decreasing westward. The grassland occurs on a variety of soils from humic clays to poorly structured sands.
A single vegetative layer of grasses dominates the grasslands, although other species such as bulbs occur. There are two categories of grassland: sweet veld and sour veld. Sweet grasses occur on the semi-arid regions of the Eastern Cape in eutrophic soils, while the sour grasses can be found in the higher rainfall regions of Drakensberg on acidic soils.
Themeda triandra is a tufted C4-photosynthesis perennial grass occurring widely across parts of Africa, Australia, and Asia. In South Africa, Themeda can occur in the savanna biome, but is primarily found in the grassland biome in regions with rainfall between 500-950 mm and at elevations of sea level-1800m. When young, this grass is a green to blue-green colour tinged pink. It then turns red with age. Rooigrass at higher altitudes tends to be shorter and darker compared to plants at lower elevations. The spikes flower from October to July. Flowers may or may not long black or white hairs. The awned spikelets hang from clusters and are surrounded by reddish brown leaf-like spathes or bracts. Rooigrass does not vegetatively spread long distances, so it is instead an obligate seeder. The long hygroscopic awns twirl when wet, driving the barbed seeds into the ground. There, they will germinate if there is a layer of litter or pioneer plants. This species is noted to be resistant to fire, with resistance increasing if the site is not overgrazed and burnt at regular intervals to allow for regeneration.