By now regular readers will be aware that my garden in the Eastern Cape of South Africa tends to be arid more years than not. We began transforming the garden we inherited from a gravel-strewn cacti covered (all exotic!) space by planting trees soon after our arrival nearly thirty-five years ago. Most of these have grown tall and provide much-needed shade as well as food and shelter for the many birds that visit our garden throughout the year. My dream of enjoying beds of flowers and low flowering shrubs long ago came to nought and with the ongoing drought I mostly plant flowers in pots, which are easier to water with the limited amount at our disposal. Vegetables too can only be grown during the odd years now and then when we receive regular rainfall.
What about the rest? Nearly twenty years ago a fast-spreading ground cover appeared in our garden having made its way in from the neighbouring garden. Not only are the leaves attractive, but this plant did not seem to mind either the drought of summer or the sometimes very cold weather experienced during the winter: it grew and grew onwards and outwards, filling nooks and crannies all over the garden. Initially I was grateful for the attractive ground cover bearing leaves with purple undersides while the upper side sports light and dark green – even silvery – stripes. After all, it was doing a good job of filling garden beds and quickly covering large sections of bare ground where nothing else would grow.
You will have to excuse the blurry image of the small flower with a lavender-pinkish hue – I almost walked into a thick, rope-like spider web strung across the garden steps and drew back very quickly! These attractive tiny flowers bloom intermittently throughout the year, usually unfolding one at a time in the morning and closing during the afternoon.
Given that this plant, originally hailing from South and Central America, is a prized house plants in the colder northern hemisphere where it does not necessarily survive the winter – all very well – I was astounded to see it advertised on a local gardening site for R80,00 per plant! How is this possible when it has become a particularly invasive problem in the Eastern Cape? In this photograph you can barely see the stone steps that lead down to a lower terrace in the garden!
It spreads like wild-fire here and has a tendency to invade moist, shaded sites, forests and stream banks where they form thick mats of vegetation that out-compete indigenous plants and contribute to transforming local habitats. I find it difficult to control its spreading habit even in my drought-stricken garden! Invasive plants often start off innocently enough, but as I have discovered, can really take over and be almost impossible to eradicate. Discarded plants – even the stem fragments – readily establish themselves in the undergrowth of natural veld and – before long – forms large colonies that shade out low-growing indigenous species.
If you live in a part of the country where these plants make attractive pot plants or fill an awkward part of your garden, do keep an eye on it and, whatever else you do, don’t let it get out of hand!