LANTANA CAMARA

As pretty as these flowers are, the Lantana camara (also known as Tick-berry) has long been declared a noxious weed in South Africa. The flowers are attractive to butterflies and the purple-black berries are relished by birds – the latter are responsible for dispersing the seeds far and wide.

Having spent much of my youth on a farm, I was aware that my father got rid of these plants whenever he saw them as they are particularly poisonous for cattle. It was thus with reluctance that I rid our garden of them soon after our arrival.

This plant was growing in a ditch next to the road. I have noticed a number of others blooming along the road leading towards Port Alfred and wonder who is responsible for their removal. One would imagine this would fall within the bailiwick of the Roads Department, on the other hand it is surprising that stock farmers leave them growing on the perimeters of their properties.

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ALIEN AUDIT (5) AUSTRALIAN BOTTLEBRUSH

This is the time of the year that the Australian Bottlebrush (Callistemon) trees start coming into bloom. We inherited an old one with our garden and used to enjoy its scarlet bottlebrush-shaped blooms until the indigenous Dias cotonifolia (Pompon trees) crowded it out. It was a popular ornamental tree at one time, and can still be seen in the older gardens of many South African towns. My neighbour’s tree is covered with blossoms at the moment and looks lovely. It too is categorised as an invasive alien in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and in Mpumalanga. However, in all the years that this one has grown in our garden, I have not seen a single seedling emerge anywhere.

ALIEN AUDIT (4) STATICE

A single Statice (Limonium sinuatum), also known as Sea Lavender, has responded beautifully to the recent light rain. These long-lasting flowers are a welcome addition to the garden and seemingly last forever in flower arrangements – even when they are dry. My joy comes from having tried – unsuccessfully – for years to establish Statice in our garden. Other plants have shrivelled up in the drought, and an unfortunate few have been shaded out by lavender bushes.

Imagine my surprise to discover that Statice is a listed invasive alien in this country! It is classed as Category 1b (invasive species that may not be owned, imported into South Africa, grown, moved, sold, given as a gift or dumped in a waterway) in the Northern and Western Cape and is also considered a problem in Gauteng, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, and in the Eastern Cape. It is spread by seed and apparently invades roadsides, disturbed coastal sites, fynbos and vacant lots in the Karoo.

I purchased my plant from a nursery and it is a flower that is widely used in commercial flower arrangements. Dilemma: keep it or toss it? Never having seen it growing in the wild in the Eastern Cape, I think I will keep it – for now at least.

ECHINOPSIS

The Sea Urchin Cactus (Echinopsis oxygona), which we came across in the Hellspoort Valley the other day is not indigenous to South Africa. Its presence in the midst of the dry veld, thorn trees, aloes, rocks and stones is a clear indication, however, that it was once part of a garden.

This is borne out by three factors:

It does not spread – there were no other plants of this nature anywhere else in the vicinity.

There were ruins of an old homestead nearby.

Even though these cacti are grown all over the world as ornamental plants, they originate in South America. The name Echinopsis is derived from echinos (hedgehog or sea urchin), and opsis (a reference to the dense coverings of spines on these plants).

They grow in clusters of globular heads in sandy soil, on the sides of hills and in rock crevices. The different colour of some of the heads here might indicate stress of one sort or another. Old plants can grow into large clumps measuring more than 60 cm in diameter – this one is at least that large. They should flower in spring or early summer.

MUNICIPAL MUSCLE

Every time the strong Berg Winds blow, the areas closest to the Municipal rubbish dump get plastered with plastic bags, cardboard and other debris – the rubbish dump is full; it is an eyesore; it seldom – if ever – gets covered over with a layer of soil. The bulldozer / frontend loader is broken we are told as often as a scratched record will repeat that snatch of song until the needle is physically moved along.

When those strong winds blow the flames of veld fires in that area, there are plenty of flammable materials to burn. The dump does not only burn accidentally, it is frequently set alight deliberately by people who wish to extract metal / keep warm on a cold night / enjoy fires … parts of the town become covered in toxic smoke that has residents living in its path snatch up their telephones to complain to the the Municipality … only to have them ringing in their ears until they cut out automatically. Why answer the telephone when you have no answer to placate the irate callers?

I was attracted to my front gate a few mornings ago by the sound of heavy equipment being deployed just across the road.

A frontend loader was muscling its way into the tangle of Cape Honeysuckle and Plumbago growing on the slope edging from our street towards they bridge. A closer look revealed that it appeared to be attacking an infestation of Prickly Pear. You can see the large leaves on the ground in front of the wheels.

The odd stump got knocked over too and collected.

Everything was dumped into the awaiting trucks – doubtless to be removed to the Municipal rubbish dump.

The frontend loader went back and forth as it gouged at the vegetation … and then it and the trucks left, never to return. This is what was left in their wake:

Plenty of Prickly Pear leaves ready to dig in and grow again. So much for Municipal Muscle!

KHAKIBOS

Two years ago I posted an entry about the arrival of alien invasive plants in this country as a result of the seeds being brought in with the fodder required for the horses used by the British troops during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). To my surprise, there have been a number of regular views since then from people wanting to know more about Khakibos, known elsewhere as Mexican Marigolds.

While my interest stems from their link to a conflict from the past that has had long-term consequences in this country, I have been intrigued by the interest shown in it as a plant in its own right. As I have mentioned before, Tagetes minuta was dubbed Khakibos (khaki bush) by the Boers in South Africa because of the khaki uniforms the British troops wore during the Anglo-Boer War – in sharp contrast to the traditional red and white uniforms worn during the earlier Anglo-Transvaal War (1880-1881). The British Army probably realised that wearing drab coloured uniforms would be a better camouflage.

Despite being regarded as invasive alien plants, these hardy weeds have been put to good use over time. Khakibos has long been used as a tick and flea repellent – I can remember besoms being made of Khakibos to sweep around the farm yard and laying Khakibos in the farmhouse before it was closed for long periods of time in order to limit the presence of fleas. It has a pleasant aroma when dried and a distinctive smell when fresh – one that takes me right back to my childhood forays into the veld.

With the development of technology and a broader understanding of the advantages of this plant, it now forms an important ingredient in many pet shampoos and other products. Having grown up in an environment where the Khakibos was simply regarded as a weed, I still find it astounding that it is actually cultivated in order to extract essential oils by means of steam distillation. According to the late Margaret Roberts, it is also useful to include Khakibos in one’s compost heap as it discourages the presence of egg-laying insects. It has also been recommended as a natural insect repellent for the vegetable garden: either growing it alongside one’s tomatoes or pumpkins, for example, or cutting it and placing it between such plants.

So, far from being an invasive alien – still detested by some – the Khakibos has turned out to be a useful plant after all!

ALIEN AUDIT (3) Cotoneaster

A number of different species of Cotoneaster are grown in South African gardens, five of which have been declared as invasive aliens. Existing plants may be retained in one’s garden providing they do not grow within 30 m from the 1:50 year flood line of watercourses or wetlands, and that all reasonable steps are taken to keep the plant from spreading. They used to be popular hedging plants and we were advised to plant them as such in our Pietermaritzburg garden. They have been planted in some gardens specifically for their attractive clusters of red berries.

These trees originated from Asia and are spread by birds feeding on the berries – as we have discovered to our cost in our present garden. While this plant is a particular problem in the Western Cape, our experience is that we ignore a seedling at our peril because before long there will be a forest of fully-fledged trees. Unless removed, they can form dense stands which shade out indigenous plants. They can reduce available grazing land and, when eaten in quantity, the berries are toxic to animals.

Cape White-eyes have a predilection for the berries. Black-eyed Bulbuls, Black-headed orioles, Red-winged Starlings, Speckled Mousebirds and Olive Thrushes feast on them too.

We have severely pruned some impossibly large Cotoneaster trees and actually removed others to little avail: seedlings continue to pop up all over the garden.