Cat’s claw is killing PMB’s trees

2010-05-04 00:00

AN aggressive, illegal South American creeper is strangling Pietermaritzburg’s indigenous flora to the extent that entire yellowwood and pine forests in the area have collapsed.

Macfadyena unguis-cati, better known as “cat’s claw”, is a green vine-like creeper that grows along the stems of other healthy plants, and drains nutrients from them. It gets its name from its three pronged claw-like climbing appendages.

“The plant is a huge problem in Pietermaritzburg, and landowners and the municipality should be actively getting rid of it. It is a threat to our indigenous flora as it grows over trees and shrubs and suffocates them,” said Isabel Johnson of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi).

Entire pine forests in Claridge have been taken over by cat’s claw; vine covered trees and broken logs are what remain from the once dense forests.

According to horticulturalists at the National Botanical Gardens in Pietermaritzburg, cat’s claw was introduced to South Africa as an ornamental plant.

Since then, it has invaded large areas, to the detriment of indigenous plants. “It is competing with our indigenous plants and it is not easy to treat it,” said Sanbi’s Lufuno Konanani.

“It produces a series of underground tubers and is extremely difficult to eradicate,” explained Johnson.

In addition to producing seeds that are spread by wind and water, the cat’s claw also reproduces vegetatively, through its extensive root system.

“Cutting it back before seeding will prevent spread to some extent, but the plant will regrow from the underground tubers. The most effective way of controlling it is to pull down the vine and apply a glycophosate-based herbicide to the leaves, and then put these into a black refuse bag so that the herbicide can be translocated to the roots and tubers,” she added.

James Arnot, a Claridge resident, said cat’s claw is becoming an increasing problem on his property and in the area.

“You can’t kill it,” he said. “You’ll be fighting one area and then you’ll realise it’s grown a root system 20 metres away.”

Arnot said, while the cat’s claw appears attractive, it has devastating effects on natural vegetation.

“It has lovely yellow flowers once a year and people see it and think it is pretty, but they should know it is killing everything,” he said.

In the Claridge area, the plants have overtaken indi­genous yellowwood trees.

Some of the once majestic trees now lie covered in cat’s claw.

Cat’s claw has been declared a category one alien invader plant.

“This is the strictest category. These plants may not occur on any land or inland water surface other than in a biological control reserve. One may not plant, maintain, multiply or propagate such plants, import or sell or acquire propagating material of such plants,” said Johnson.


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