Well-known offender

2014-07-15 00:00

BUGWEED (Solanum mauritianum), otherwise known as luisboom or groot bitterappel (Afrikaans) or umbangabanga (Zulu) is probably one of the best known invasive alien plants in KZN, being extremely common and capable of growing to a height of some eight metres, especially under moist conditions.

The species comes from South America and was introduced for ornamental purposes. Bugweed has distinctive, large, hairy, pale-green, tobacco-like leaves. Flowers are purple, located in clusters at the ends of branches. These flowers are replaced by clusters of soft yellow fruits much favoured by a variety of wildlife. Flowering takes place all year round. This plant readily invades forest margins, plantations, wooded kloofs, road sides, wasteland, water courses and urban open spaces, rapidly replacing indigenous species. The fine hairs that cover these plants may cause respiratory problems and skin irritations should contact be made with them. Unfortunately, many birds, especially the Rameron Pigeon, find the fruits attractive and so accelerate the spread of these plants. Like most invasive plants, it is best to eliminate them when they are young and can be easily uprooted. There are effective herbicides, although the plants have developed a level of resistance to some of these. Bugweed is closely related to two important crop vegetables, potatoes and tomatoes, and some indigenous trees, making biological control somewhat problematic.

• jasonlondt@telkomsa.net

IN this series of articles, the Inland Branch of the Botanical Society has endeavoured to promote the eradication of alien invasive plants by helping concerned citizens to recognise the more important species. As the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act makes it an offence to harbour invasive alien plants on your property, it is everyone’s responsibility to take an active part in ensuring that these are effectively eliminated in the interests of preserving biodiversity. By outcompeting indigenous plants, alien invasive plants not only threaten our floral heritage but impact our ecosystems negatively. Not only that, but they are usually thirsty plants and can have a serious impact on our precious water resources. Information contained in these articles has been based largely on the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa’s handbook titled Invasive alien plants in KwaZulu-Natal: Management and control, and readers are encouraged to get a copy. The focus has been on some of the most important plants (category 1), listed on the Agricultural Research Council’s website (www.arc.agric.za), and concerned citizens are urged to report infestations to their appropriate conservation authority.

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