Ehrharta calycina J.E. Sm.


Author: D.B. Hoare
Common names

Common Ehrharta; veldtgrass, perennial veldtgrass.


Bambusoideae; Oryzodae; Ehrharteae. There are 27 species of Ehrharta of which 23 are indigenous to southern Africa and all except 1 variety of 1 species is endemic.

  Origin and geographic distribution

The genus Ehrharta Thunb. is distributed within the cool temperate parts of southern Africa, south-western, southern and eastern Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand and Malesia (Gibbs-Russell & Ellis 1987). In southern Africa Ehrharta can be divided into seven species groups: Setacea, Capensis, Erecta, Calycina, Ramosa, Dura and Villosa.
Ehrharta calycina is distributed along the western, southern and eastern parts of South Africa from the mountains to the coast (Gibbs-Russell et al. 1991. The species is endemic to South Africa and is locally common (Gibbs-Russell et al. 1991).
Ehrharta calycina was introduced to Australia as a pasture grass and has become naturalized there. It has also become naturalized in California and India. It was introduced to California via Australia in 1929 (Magness et al. 1971) and is now common on the coastal sand dunes at San Luis Obispo and San Diego.


Ehrharta calycina is a very variable rhizomatous perennial, sometimes an annual that grows 300-1800 mm tall. The leave blades are filiform, up to 7 mm wide, flat or rolled. The inflorescence is an open panicle of hairy spikelets. The inflorescence and culms are usually purple, especially in summer. Spikelets are 4.0-8.5 mm long. The sterile lemmas are similar in texture and are hairy with long hairs. The first is more than two-thirds the length of the second, which has an acute tip or is truncate or has a mucro arising abruptly from the central nerve, and has a pair of ear-like appendages from the base.
Cultivar "Mission" was registered in The U.S.A. in 1963 and in Australia in 1968 and is characterised by having shorter and more contracted panicles than the wild form.


A highly palatable drought-resistant grass that has potential as a pasture species. It is one of the only winter-rainfall grass species from southern Africa that is even potentially valuable as grazing (Gibbs-Russell et al. 1989). It has been used in the past to rehabilitate mine dumps in South Africa. It is cultivated in Australia and California as drought-resistant pasture. It is used in range reseeding in California and is also intended as a species to be used in the revegetation of disturbed areas (Magness et al. 1971). It is a persistent weed in some parts of Australia, and in California it is invading destructively into natural maritime desert scrub.


The genus Ehrharta has a base chromosome number of 12 (Spies et al. 1989). E. calycina is highly variable and shows polyploidy and aneuploidy. 2n = 24-28, 30.

  Leaf blade anatomy

C3 photosynthetic pathway.


None reported and considered to be non-toxic.


Ehrharta calycina occurs in a wide range of habitats in the winter rainfall and temperate summer rainfall regions of South Africa. The climate is temperate and Mediterranean throughout the natural range of the species with annual rainfall varying from less than 200 to over 800 mm per annum. It was introduced to Davis, California as a drought-resistant grass for rangelands, but it was unable to withstand heavy grazing. It is now common on the coastal sand dunes at San Luis Obispo and San Diego. It flowers in the spring. On Nalf San Clemente Island in California, where it has become invasive, attempts are being made to eradicate it using 2% glyphosphate solution (Soil Ecology and Research Group ).
In Australia, it invades Banksia woodlands where it may germinate under a wide range of temperature and light conditions (Smith et al. 1999). High-intensity fire has an impact on E. calycina, as the seeds of this species tend to accumulate in the top of the soil profile where they are more susceptible to high temperatures (Smith et al. 1999). However, survival of mature individuals by postfire resprouting ensures continued survival in native Australian woodlands (Smith et al. 1999). About half the soil seed bank of E. calycina germinates following fire (Smith et al. 1999).

  Soil requirements

Found mostly in sandy soil, but utilizes a variety of other habitats.

  Propagation and planting

E. calycina is propagated by seed for which there may be as many as 725,000 per pound (USDA, NRCS. 2002). The soil seed bank density of E. calycina is nearly 75 000 seeds m -2 (Smith et al. 1999).

  Growth and development

Usually flowers from spring to early summer, but may flower at any other time of the year. In California flowering occurs in spring (Magness et al. 1971). The fruiting and seeding period begins and ends in summer. E. calycina has a low tolerance of anaerobic conditions, drought, salinity, soil CaCO3 and shade (USDA, NRCS. 2002), but has a moderate tolerance of fire. It becomes dormant in winter under heavy frosts.

  Diseases and pests

None known


The seed spread rate, seedling vigour and vegetative spread rate of E. calycina in California are all moderate (USDA, NRCS. 2002). The vegetative growth rate is rapid. E. calycina does not fix nitrogen.


Ehrharta calycina profile
(Plants Database)

Register of Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars

Grass Varieties in the United States

Soil Ecology and Research Group (DRAFT IMPLEMENTATION REPORT)


GIBBS-RUSSELL, G.E. and ELLIS, R.P. 1987. Species groups in Ehrharta (Poaceae) in southern Africa. Bothalia 17: 51-65.

GIBBS-RUSSELL, G.E., WATSON, L., KOEKEMOER, M., SMOOK, L. BARKER, N.P., ANDERSON, H.M., DALLWITZ, M.J. 1991. Grasses of southern Africa. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa, No. 58, National Botanical

SPIES, J.J., SAAYMAN, E.J.L., VOGES, S.P., and DAVIDSE, G. 1989. Chromosome studies on African Plants. 9. Chromosome numbers in Ehrharta (Poaceae: Ehrhartaea). Bothalia 19: 125-132.

MAGNESS, J.R., MARKLE, G.M. and COMPTON, C.C. 1971. Food and feed crops of the United States. Interregional Research Project IR-4, IR Bul. 1 (Bul. 828 New Jersey Agr. Expt. Sta.).

SMITH, M.A., BELL, D.T. and LONERAGAN, W.A. 1999. Comparative seed germination ecology of Austrostipa compressa and Ehrharta calycina (Poaceae) in a Western Australian Banksia woodland. Australian Journal of Ecology 24 (1): 35-42.

USDA, NRCS. 2002. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 ( National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.