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Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Grasses

Golden Gate Highlands National Park is currently the only grassland national park in South Africa.

The park contains over 60 species of grasses. The high rainfall in the area means that the soil is acidic and the grassland is termed ‘sourveld’. In summer, much of the grass takes on a reddish tint due to the Red grass (Themeda traindra) that grows here. Red grass is an indicator of excellent grazing and grassland that is in good health. This type of grass is rare outside the park fences where overgrazing is a problem.

Many of the grasses and some plants require burning to remain healthy by removing accumulated dead material. It is also important that enough area is left unburnt every year to provide food for animals, so fire breaks are made to control the spread of fires.

Eragrostis chloromelas

(Curly leaf, Krulblaar, Moseeka)
A tufted perennial, 40-80cm. One of the most common grasses in lower lying areas in the park. This grass can withstand heavy grazing. In times of severe famine, the Basotho used the seed for making bread and brewing beer.

Hyparrhenia hirta

(Common thatch grass, Dekgras, Legokwana)
A tufted perennial, 30-80cm tall. Common on sunny slopes and along the roadside. Very widespread in southern Africa. A valuable source of grazing in spring before the leaves become too hard. This grass is very useful, and can be made into short thatching and grain baskets like the one illustrated. Such large baskets are used for storing grain and can reach up to 1.5m across.

Eragrostis gummiflua

(Gum grass, Gomgras, Dikonono)
A densely tufted perennial, 40-90cm tall. The leaf sheaths and joints are covered in a sticky substance which holds sand and soil. Found around disturbed areas such as beside the road. This grass is used for making stiff brooms and is smeared in the form of an ointment on the testicles of bulls to promote fertility.

Heteropogon contortus

(Spear grass, Assegaaigras, Seloka)
A tufted perennial, up to 70cm tall. Found in the lower areas, often growing in clumps. One of the most widespread grasses in southern Africa. This grass has very sharp grains, and can be painful when walking in shorts. The Basotho use this species in the treatment of rheumatism of the hands.

Themeda triandra

(Red grass, Rooigras, Seboku)
A variable, tufted perennial, 30-150cm tall. One of the most important sources of grazing in spring and summer. If it is dominant the veld is
regarded as being very healthy. It is a minor source of thatching and soft basket material.

Phragmites australis

(Common reed, Fluitjiesriet, Lehlaka)
A perennial, up to 4 meters tall, forming dense, reed-like stands. Common in riverbeds and dam edges. This grass is a contender for the world’s most widespread plant
species. It is often used by the Basotho for screens around courtyards of the hut (as illustrated), and as an inner layer and base for thatched roofs. It provides a suitable nesting site for many species of birds. It is not used for grazing.

Merxmuellera drakensbergensis

(Broom grass, Besemgras, Mohlabapere)
A densely tufted perennial, up to 1 meter tall. The very hard, springy leaves are not grazed at all. It occurs in the sponge area on top of the mountains and escarpments, but only in deeper soil pockets in and around Lesotho and also in Mpumalanga. This species is the most sought after grass for hand-made products such as brooms, baskets and hats. The fine folded leaves are also the best for plaiting the ropes to bind hats and baskets. The baskets below are examples of products made from Merxmuellera drakensbergensis. This grass is named after both the German botanist H. Merxmüller and the Drakensberg mountains.

More information can be obtained from the following book, available from the Hotel Gift Shop.

Moffett, R. 1997.
Grasses of the Eastern Free State, UNIQWA.

Acknowledgment to the abovementioned author for the kind use of his knowledge and drawings in this guide