BRAZILIAN PEPPER TREE

In its wisdom, our local municipality planted a row of Brazilian Pepper trees (Schinus terebinthifoliu) along the street that runs in front of our home. I say ‘in its wisdom’ – although, to be fair, this knowledge might not have been readily available forty odd years ago – because not only are their bright red, slightly fleshy fruits poisonous, but the sap of these trees is a skin irritant and affects the respiratory tract! How wonderful to have these as our street trees.

They were probably planted as ornamental trees because they are evergreen with wide-spreading, horizontal branches and the bountiful crop of fruits look attractive. Each of the fruits contain a single seed, most of which are dispersed by birds and animals.

The interesting thing is that this attractive tree is a Category One invasive alien, which means it is illegal to grow it in one’s garden – yet, here is a whole row of them in the street! The Brazilian pepper-tree is native to south eastern Brazil, northern Argentina and Paraguay. It is now classified as a highly invasive species that has proved to be a serious weed in South Africa. Any chance they will be removed by the municipality? Don’t bet on it.

NOTE: Click on the photographs if you want a larger view.

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AGAVE ATTENUATA

While the leaves of the Agave attenuata, also known as Swan’s Neck or Fox Tail are attractive on their own, for me the real attraction is their flowers.

The long spikes of flowers appear as each of these rosettes of sharply pointed grey-green leaves matures over a period of four to five years.

As you can see, these flower spikes grow to be about 3m tall and bend over so that from certain angles they look akin to the curve of a swan’s neck – hence that common name, although it is also known here in Afrikaans as Die Sonkyker.

Probably due to their weight, these tall spikes reflex towards the ground before arching up again – apparently like the tail of a fox, giving rise to another common name.

Each of these spikes is filled with a myriad creamy flowers. Once a rosette of leaves has produced a flower, it dies.

This plant originates from Mexico and is a popular plant for large gardens and in public gardens. This particular specimen grows next to the road leading into our town, along with various colour varieties of bougainvillea – plants suited to ‘neglect’ as they have been planted on a bank and are never watered by the municipality.

 

SMALL ROUND-LEAVED PRICKLY PEAR

We are used to seeing prickly pear plants all over this country. All prickly pears here are regarded as alien invasives even though some are used for fodder and many people enjoy eating their fruit.

The unusual purple fruits of these plants on a farm in the Stormberg area caught my eye. They are from the Small Round-leaved Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii), also known as the Kleinronderblaarturksvy.

The plant, which can grow to 1, 5m tall, is smaller than the more common ones we come across.

As you can see, the plant has long white spines and bears purple, fleshy, edible fruits.

Like so many alien invasive plants, the Opuntia engelmanii was probably introduced as an ornamental plant that has since escaped the boundaries of gardens. Originating from North and Central America, it has been listed as a noxious weed in this country since 1984 and is a particular problem in the Limpopo, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Northern Cape, Gauteng and Free State provinces. The spines can injure livestock and wild herbivores and its presence in grazing areas can curtail the movement of such animals.

VERBENA ARISTIGERA

I have always known this plant as ‘wild verbena’ for it grows all over the country and bears a close resemblance to the far more lush and beautiful verbena seeds people purchase for their gardens.

This tough plant flowers next to roads, in the veld, and in disturbed soil.

It is so ubiquitous that I have been puzzled why it is not represented in the various guides I have to wild flowers in South Africa. The answer lay in my trusty Common Weeds in South Africa by Mayda Henderson and Johan G. Anderson published in 1966: this fine-leaved verbena originated in South America (as so many of our alien plants do) and was probably brought in as a garden plant. The names Verbena aristigera and Verbena tenuisecta appear to be synonymous. They are such pretty flowers that I am pleased to read that they do not, as yet, present a serious weed problem.

Note: Click on the photographs if you want a larger view.

A REVIEW OF 2018

The statistics provided for our blogs make interesting reading, particularly as I look back on another year of posting about this or that. That most of my viewers are from South Africa pleases me, for it is my home audience after all. The United States of America and the United Kingdom provide the next most viewers – although the spectrum of viewers from all over the world is exciting, for it is good to know that what I post has a broad appeal.

I am intrigued that the top search term remains black jack plant.

It is thus not surprising that the most popular post is Weeds with a History, which was first published in 2015. It received seven views then and 323 views this year! This post came about as a result of a trip we did through the Free State at a time when the Cosmos flowers were blooming; we had walked through the veld to view military graves and returned covered in Black Jack seeds; and had inadvertently crushed Khakibos underfoot, which released a particularly fragrant aroma I have always associated with my childhood in the Lowveld.

All three of these weeds came to this country as a result of feed brought in for the British horses during the Anglo-Boer War.

The next most popular post is War Horses: the role of horses in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). This was posted in 2016 after a trip to KwaZuluNatal during which we visited the horse memorial at the Weston Agricultural College. Even though I was familiar with the well-known horse memorial in Port Elizabeth, I found this a particularly moving experience and felt compelled to research and write about the role horses played during this war.

It was viewed 49 times in 2016 and 297 times this year, which encouraged me to conduct further research and to write about this topic in greater detail to present as a talk to three very different audiences.

What has taken me by surprise though is the popularity of the post on Flying Ants, which was also published in 2016, gaining an initial nine views then and garnering 233 this year – simply an observation of what was happening in my garden!

What about the posts published in 2018 then? Blackjacks tops the list – this is a more in-depth exploration of these weeds which came about as a result of the popularity of the search term. My short story, Poor Uncle Kevin couldn’t go to the party – based on my son’s dog which died this year – came second, with National Bird of South Africa – the Blue Crane – coming third.

Thank you to everyone who has taken time to read my posts, to those who have become followers, and especially to those who have liked and commented on my posts. This has been a wonderful way to connect with readers and has enriched my blogging experience enormously.

I hope you will all enjoy a happy festive season.

HERITAGE SITES IN GRAHAMSTOWN: BOTANICAL GARDENS

The Botanical Gardens in Grahamstown are situated on land granted to the Albany Botanical Gardens by the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir George Cathcart, with the transfer of Erf 3282 being passed on 19th October 1853. More land was allocated to the project a year later and the gardens have expanded since then.

An avenue of oak trees runs through the centre of the gardens – clearly these are replacements of the original trees. This was the oldest plantation of oaks in or near Grahamstown at the time. This avenue historically formed an important carriageway from Lucas Avenue to Mountain Drive.

The gardens, affectionately known as ‘Bots’, but now officially called Makana Botanical Gardens, are adjacent to the beautiful campus of Rhodes University. Owing to the neglect of the gardens over a number of years, a rehabilitation and redevelopment programme was initiated by SANBI between 2004 and 2006. The Makana District (formerly Albany) granted Rhodes University a 99 year lease on the understanding that the gardens would be maintained by that institution during that time.

For some time afterwards the gardens were a joy to walk through with a variety of indigenous flowers blooming at different times of the year and an interesting array of paved paths winding up towards the top of Gunfire Hill. The paths are still there but an air of genteel neglect is pervasive.

Given the prolonged drought, it is perhaps understandable that the lily ponds have been drained. One of these lily ponds was created to commemorate Captain Fordyce (who died in the Amatolas in 1851 in the War of Mlanjeni). Only the hardiest of flowers are blooming in the overgrown and neglected garden beds. One being Felicia aethiopica.

The other is a Sour Fig.

A number of mature trees have survived both drought and neglect – there is a lovely grove of Erythrina caffra.

The very tall Bunya Pine Tree (Araucaria bidwillii) near the entrance has a sign warning visitors to be careful of falling pine cones. Read the sign and you will understand why!

This and other exotic trees hark back to an era when the gardens showcased plants from all over the world.

A military cemetery, dating from 1819 to 1822, lies within the grounds of the botanical gardens – overgrown with grass and weeds. A seedling white ironwood is growing right next to one of the head stones.

Apart from one, the remaining headstones can no longer be read because of weathering and the growth of lichen on them. The earliest grave is that of Captain R. Gethin, who died in the Battle of Grahamstown in 1819.

These botanical gardens, once part of the Drostdy Estate, are the second oldest in South Africa and bear the status of a Provincial Heritage Site. They were officially proclaimed a National Monument in July 1984.

Interesting background reading about the history of this area can be found at:

https://www.sahra.org.za/sahris/sites/default/files/remoteserver/sahrisdepot/scannedfiles/Part%202%20Vol3%20%209-2-003-2.pdf

 

COCHINEAL INSECTS: A TALE OF TWO IMPORTS

Most species of cacti were introduced to this country in the 1900s – or even before. They have become so prolific, however, that cochineal insects (Dactylopius austrinus) that feed on the sap of cactus species were introduced to South Africa, firstly in 1935 and again during the 1970s, as a biological control for these invasive cacti species, including the jointed cactus and prickly pear. These insects usually live together in colonies seen on the surface of cactus plants.

The jointed cactus, (Opuntia aurantiaca), originally from Argentina and Paraguay, has invaded pastoral lands, threatening indigenous plants as well as the health of livestock – and is a particular pest in the Eastern Cape. I pointed out in a post on jointed cactus (February 2018) that they not only compete for resources such as water, sunlight, and nutrients but their viciously sharp spines prevent animals from grazing and can cause considerable harm to livestock.

By all accounts, the introduction of a variety of the various varieties of cochineal insects has not been as successful as might have been hoped. Nonetheless, should you spot white masses on prickly pears, know that one import is doing its bit to get rid of another import!