It is St. Patrick’s Day after all, so what about a song from The New Christy Minstrels?

Green, green, it’s green they say

On the far side of the hill

Green, green, I’m goin’ away

To where the grass is greener still …

We will stick with green, even though autumn is waiting in the wings, and begin  with the counting out rhyme

A little green snake

Ate too much cake,

And now he’s got

A belly-ache!

This green snake, found on the lawn at Royal Natal National Park, didn’t get a belly-ache but had its head neatly chopped off – probably by one of the gardeners.

Several streets of the town I live in are lined with oak trees. Here are new leaves shining in the sunlight.

While prickly pears are not indigenous to this country, they have spread everywhere.

Known abroad as the jade plant for some reason, the Crassula ovata is indigenous here and we have several of them growing in our garden. This one is almost ready to show off its lovely flowers.

Spekboom is also indigenous to the Eastern Cape and grows very easily in my garden.

Lastly, these pods of the Weeping Boerbean (Schotia brachypetala) caught my eye.



The five trees featured below are not indigenous to South Africa, although to call them aliens at this stage might be a misnomer as they have settled in and made themselves quite at home. Some are so familiar that we rarely think about them ‘not belonging’ and others make a nuisance of themselves particularly in riparian areas. Even though the fruit of some are poisonous, all were brought into the country at one time or another either because they were attractive or had some perceived use. We are stuck with them so need to be wary of their march through the country, all whilst admiring them for some of their qualities.

Around about three hundred different types of Eucalyptus trees have been introduced to this country – mainly for the forestry industry which supplies timber for anything from mining to furniture, as well as the paper industry. They grow fast and were popular choices for windbreaks and even for some public parks.

The long-leaved wattle (Acacia longifolia) is a highly invasive tree that was originally planted here to assist with the reclamation of sand dunes. It is easy to see why they compete with indigenous species of trees as they tend to grow in stands so thick that they are actually difficult to walk through – and nothing grows underneath them. Their flowers are very attractive though.

Melia azedarach or syringa trees were imported from India for their ornamental properties. They grow into a beautiful shape that provides much-needed shade during our hot summers, have beautifully scented lilac flowers, and even the bunches of golden berries that follow are attractive – although very poisonous!

Another tree cultivated here – especially as street trees – for its ornamental properties is the Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolia) which, as the name suggests, originated in South America. Of course one can never tell what the long-term consequences of planting alien trees might be: decades on, municipalities are having to face the fact that the roots of these trees not only break up the pavements but invade sewers and drains. The attractive berries are toxic too.

Quercus robur is apparently the most common of the oak trees that proliferate in the Western Cape and which have made their way through much of the country – they too have been popular as street trees or for providing shade in public parks. Even though these trees are slow growing, some have strayed from their original sites and managed to grow to a fair size.


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: