ALIEN AUDIT (5): BINDWEED

Unless you are particularly vigilant, you might barely notice its presence until it is too late. The slender tendrils appear tentatively, waving in the breeze before latching on to the closest purchase. These thin thread-like vines wrap themselves tightly around plants or other upward objects … before you know it, entire plants can be covered – or even items leaning against a wall.

Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) is an invasive species throughout South Africa. Because this rampant vine has a tendency to choke plants, it is problematic in both gardens and in cultivated fields. Bindweed is low growing, with medium green narrow arrowhead-shaped leaves on vigorous slender stems. Some of you may recognise blackjacks in the background – another drought-resistant invasive.

The flowers are funnel-shaped with colours ranging from white to pale pink. These tiny trumpet-like flowers look attractive – especially in a drought-stricken garden like ours.

Beware though, because before you know it, this Bindweed will have taken over your garden with great stealth you will it difficult to get rid of it. This is because simply pulling it off the affected plants is not enough: it actually has an extensive taproot system of creeping underground stems (rhizomes) that can go down as far as five metres into the soil! Walter de la Mere warns us that:

The bindweed roots pierce down

Deeper than men do lie,

Laid in their dark-shut graves

Their slumbering kinsmen by.

By entwining itself around plants, bindweed eventually strangles them or can get so heavy it drags the plants over. It is best not to let it flower and go to seed for the seeds can remain dormant in the soil for up to twenty years – ensuring that you will have a constant battle on your hands. One simply has to pull them out on sight. Yet, as James McKean warns us, this won’t be the end of them:

There is little I can do

besides stoop to pluck them

one by one from the ground,

their roots all weak links,

this hoard of Lazaruses popping up

at night, not the Heavenly Blue

so like silk handkerchiefs,

nor the Giant White so timid

in the face of the moon,

but poor relations who visit

then stay.

16 thoughts on “ALIEN AUDIT (5): BINDWEED

  1. We have a similar type that is perennial and I pull them out of the garden constantly as soon as they appear, but nothing ever weakens them enough to kill them. At least our winter doesn’t allow them to get too aggressive.

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    • I imagine various types of bindweed are found all over. I am always taken aback by the speed at which it grows – and spreads. It was nowhere to be seen in our bare garden until the first rain, now I am going to have to do some diligent pulling out!

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  2. We also have a variety of bindweed, and it is indeed a menace! Needs dealing with very firmly. And, as you say, it has a pretty flower.

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  3. An interesting post – 5 metres down is quite some root! Or course we also have many invasive alien plants with some being more of the choking variety than others – but by some stroke of fortune not this one – yet …

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