Kloof Conservancy - alien busters

2016-06-14 06:00
 Photo: supplied Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius).

Photo: supplied Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius).

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By Mieke van Tienhoven
MOST Upper Highway residents are aware of the more obvious invasive alien plants, such as bugweed and Lantana, which pop up in the garden or disturbed areas all the time.

However, many people do not know that the Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius), an ornamental tree or large shrub, is also highly invasive. In late summer and autumn, the bunches of bright red-brown berries, resembling peppercorns, are very obvious. The dark green leaves are divided into smaller leaflets, with lighter green veins that are quite prominent.

It is an evergreen tree that can grow to 6m in height, and it was used as a hedging plant on roadsides. It is now listed as a Category 1b invader in KwaZulu-Natal, and thus should be removed and destroyed to prevent its further spread.

Sadly, it lines many of the coastal roads and highways, particularly the N2 North Coast road, where it has replaced the indigenous vegetation. It is a particular problem in wetlands and riverine areas, and in the USA is considered the worst invader plant in the swamps of the Florida Everglades. In the Upper Highway area it is found in many gardens, as it provides year-round shade.

Old garden texts describe the pepper trees as useful in gardens where conditions were difficult, and water was scarce. These same features now allow the pepper trees to flourish in our often arid climate. A lovely indigenous alternative is the white pear (Apodytes dimidiata) or coastal silver oak (Brachylaena discolor).

Larger pepper trees can be cut down, but will regrow or coppice, so follow-up treatment is essential. Commercial herbicides are available to treat the base of the stem, but must be used according to the label instructions. Also take care to ensure that the seeds are not dispersed further. Seedlings should be pulled out by hand. Contact Mieke on amvantienhoven@gmail.com.

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