LOOKING BACK OVER A THOUSAND POSTS

This is my thousandth post since I tentatively began my blog in December 2013. Apart from trawling through my archives or wanting to find out more about me, the three posts that have attracted the most views since then have surprised me. This might be an appropriate time to tell you how they came about:

The most viewed post is Weeds with a History (https://somethingovertea.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/weeds-with-a-history/) published in June 2015. While only ten bloggers have ‘liked’ it and it took three years before anyone responded to it (thank you Joy!), the post about three of the most common invasive weeds in South Africa (Khakibos, Blackjacks, and Cosmos) has been viewed nearly eight hundred times. Are viewers interested in weeds, or does the ‘with a history’ attract their attention? It came about as a result of one of our many travels through this country when we were climbing up Yeomanry Kopje outside Lindley in the Free State to view the graves of British soldiers buried there during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). As we walked through the inevitable swathes of Khakibos in the long grass it struck me then that these weeds had not existed in this country prior to that war. Having researched the subject, I gave a short talk on it at the Eastern Cape branch of the South African Military History Society. The interest shown there encouraged me to publish the post.

Following close on its heels – and closely related to it – is War Horses: the role of horses in the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902) (https://somethingovertea.wordpress.com/2016/04/21/war-horses-the-role-of-horses-in-the-anglo-boer-war-1899-1902/) published nearly a year later. I have long been familiar with the Horse Memorial in Port Elizabeth, having first seen it as a child, but visiting the Horse Memorial on the campus of the Weston Agricultural College in KwaZulu Natal brought home to me the role that horses have played in war and in the Anglo-Boer War in particular. This post is very basic – written while I was feeling passionate about the topic but had not yet researched it deeply. Only nine bloggers have ‘liked’ it and Nature on the Edge is the only one to have responded (thank you Liz!), yet it has been viewed nearly seven hundred times. My interest in the topic grew and the more I found out about the role played by horses, the more I wanted to disseminate this. Thus I have since expanded it and addressed the Military History Society, The Grahamstown Historical Society, our local U3A and Friends of the Library – incorporating poetry and a variety of illustrations to embellish the message.

Surprisingly, the third most viewed post is on the topic of Flying Ants (https://somethingovertea.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/flying-ants/), also published in 2016. Although only four bloggers have ‘liked’ it and only Summer Daisy Cottage responded, it has been viewed close to four hundred times. We actually used to receive rain three years ago and I happened upon the alates emerging from the ground, having been alerted to this by the interest shown by a variety of birds in that particular section of the garden. I thought it would be interesting to record what was happening. Perhaps most of the viewers need to look up ‘flying ants’ for their school projects!

 

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.

BLACKJACKS

One of the most frequent search terms that appear on my blog relates in some way to Blackjacks (Bidens pilosa), demonstrating that what I have regarded as a pesky weed is clearly of greater interest to others. This piqued my curiosity and so I have put blackjacks under the microscope, metaphorically speaking.

The common blackjack is an annual plant belonging to the Asteraceae family. Like so many other species, this plant was collected and named by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 – what a marvellous contribution that man has made to our collective knowledge of plants! How this particular one came to be known as a ‘blackjack’ is anyone’s guess.

I have mentioned in a previous post that blackjacks originated in South America and, while it is now common in all tropical and sub-tropical areas throughout the world, it is known that they put down their roots in South Africa over a century ago. This date can be traced to the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), when British forces imported fodder mainly from Mexico and Argentina for their horses. Blackjacks formed part of this fodder.

These plants are easily recognisable for they grow tall, and have small white and yellow flowers, which then develop into clusters of barbed seeds. The flowers are borne on long, slender stalks at the end of branched stems. Each flower head has four or five short, broad white petals with numerous yellow disc florets which are pollinated by flies and bees.

To the dismay of many a gardener, blackjacks are fast growing: flowering starts a mere six weeks after the plants emerge and the seeds mature only a month later! Think about it: each plant can bear about eighty flower heads, which in turn can produce over 3 000 seeds in a single generation. You can see why these plants are widely regarded as a weed.

As you can see from the picture above, the seeds radiate outwards and have sharp awns that hook onto passing animals and people as an efficient means of dispersal. Two of the seeds are dangling from the seed head on the left, just waiting to be caught on something passing by.

If you look carefully at the flower on the right of the picture above, you will notice the cluster of seeds in the making – quite an arsenal of them packed in tightly!

The plants commonly grow in disturbed habitats, such as in gardens, farm lands, and along the road verges. The hot weather conditions in South Africa suit the ideal growing requirements of blackjacks.

Heed this anonymous quotation: But a weed is simply a plant that wants to grow where people want something else. In blaming nature, people mistake the culprit.   Weeds are people’s idea, not nature’s.

A plant as prolific as this must have some uses. I find it intriguing that blackjack leaves are considered in some quarters as a ready source of food and medicine. It has been recorded as having been sold at local markets in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo during times when other vegetables are scarce. The problem is that blackjacks cannot be stored for more than a day and so, storing leaves in a ‘fridge or parboiling them before allowing them to dry in the sun are some methods of preservation that have been tried.

It is the young plants that are reputed to be the most nutritious as they contain high levels of Vitamins A and C as well as iron, and even protein. The leaves are generally eaten boiled or stir-fried. I cannot vouch for this, yet I imagine one would have to become used to their astringent taste.

The roots, leaves and seeds reportedly possess anti-sceptic and anti-inflammatory properties. For those who know how to administer the plants medicinally, decoctions of powdered leaves have been used to treat abdominal pains, headaches, and even diarrhoea. Juice from crushed leaves can apparently be used to clean cuts and superficial wounds. It has also been said that the fibrous nature of the plants promote bowel regularity and can ease constipation.

While it is fascinating to know of some of the many uses of this common weed. I wouldn’t try any of the above medicinal applications – that’s what pharmacies and pharmacists are for!

This is a list of some of the many interesting resources relating to blackjacks, their cultivation and their uses:

Henderson M. and Anderson J.G Common Weeds in South Africa Botanical Survey, Memoir No 37 1966. Department of Agricultural Technical Service.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bidens_pilosa

http://www.nda.agric.za/docs/Brochures/BlackjackPG.pdf

http://keys.lucidcentral.org/keys/v3/eafrinet/weeds/key/weeds/Media/Html/Bidens_pilosa_(Blackjack).htm

http://www.tibb.co.za/articles/health-benefits-of-black-jack.pdf

https://avrdc.org/blackjack-bidens-pilosa/

https://somethingovertea.wordpress.com/tag/common-blackjack/

http://www.farmersweekly.co.za/animals/horses/beware-those-blackjacks/

https://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/ricette_tanzania_ENG.pdf

http://ugmed.weebly.com/plants–medicinal-power.html

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2013/340215/

 

WEEDS WITH A HISTORY

A weed is but an unloved flower – Ella Wilcox (American poet).

We have become so used to the sight of Khakibos (Tagetes minuta),

khakibos

the Common Blackjack (Bidens pilosa),

blackjack

and Cosmos flowers (Cosmos bipinnatus) in South Africa that we seldom even think about whether or not they belong here.

cosmos

All three plants grow in fallow lands, flourish in disturbed ground and are generally regarded as weeds by farmers and gardeners alike. Unsurprisingly, the cosmos is also known as mieliepes (mealie/maize pest) by farmers. All are listed as alien invasive species in this country.

Their history is interesting, given that they originated in Central America and took root in this country over a century ago. This came about through the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) when the British forces imported fodder for their horses from Argentina and Mexico. It is this fodder that contained the seeds of these plants that initially established themselves in the areas that saw action during the war – imagine if one could go back in time to track the paths these plants took root in first and compare these with the movement of the troops!

Khakibos, otherwise known as Mexican Marigold, is particularly interesting given the above context. Its common name derives from 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) – which gave rise to them being dubbed ‘Khakis’ by the Boers.

Despite being invasive alien plants, they 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. These days it forms an important ingredient in many pet shampoos and other products, for example. It is thus actually cultivated in order to extract essential oils by means of steam distillation.

While I recall feeding blackjack plants to our chickens after a bout of weeding, I was astounded to discover the other day that this weed is cultivated in parts of this country as a nutritious food crop!

During its flowering season the Highveld is transformed into a land of beauty as cosmos blossoms of several hues dance about in the lands and beckon the attention of travellers by growing en masse along the road verges too. These days gardeners can purchase commercially produced cosmos seeds to brighten a bed or two.

This is how these naturalised aliens came to be a familiar part of our landscape so long ago.