Alien plant species creeping into town

2017-11-07 06:00

An invasion of Simon’s Town is underway, but not by another navy.

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) has issued a warning to Simon’s Town residents about an invasive plant species which is creeping into ­gardens.

The Institute’s Directorate on Biological Invasions (DBI) is currently assessing the threat of Furcraea foetida (commonly known as Mauritius hemp) to local biodiversity and taking a precautionary approach to control it. The DBI is appealing to the public to report any sightings of this invasive plant in the Western Cape so that they can be managed before they become widespread.

Mauritius hemp is an evergreen perennial succulent shrub native to the Caribbean and tropical South America. In South Africa it has become naturalised in at least four provinces and is listed as category 1a under the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, meaning it must be controlled and possibly eradicated.

Trading in or planting this species is strictly prohibited. Naturalised on several islands, its inflorescence stalks produce bulbils in large quantities that spread naturally. Adult plants form dense impenetrable stands which exclude native vegetation.

The sword-shaped leaves are bright green and can grow up to 2.5m long, with a few widely hooked marginal thorns that are usually located toward the base of the plant. The plant’s flowers are green to cream white and can be seen in different seasons in South Africa. During flowering, the plant produces a tall, slender flower stalk, with yellowish bell-shaped flowers.

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