District 9 and what to do when you find an alien

Aliens are alive and well, and living in your neighbourhood.

In fact, they are more than living, they’re flourishing. This is probably because our climate is so perfectly suited to their particular genetic makeup. But its also because we are pretty ignorant when it comes to spotting and dealing with aliens.

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Ok, you’ve probably guessed by now that this has nothing to do with District 9  – I just put that in the header to catch your attention. And if you were hoping to see something about Avatar or extra-terrestrials you might be disappointed too.

But here in South Africa, we have a pretty serious problem with Alien Invasive Plants, and this is for a number of reasons:

If you live in KwaZulu Natal with our subtropical climate, you may be forgiven for not realising that the rest of South Africa is living below the bread-line when it comes to water resources. Alien plants slurp up, by the bucket-load this most precious resource, that our indigenous plants have learnt to carefully ration.

As they rapidly invade, they encroach on our natural habitats. Birds and other animals eat their fruit and spread their seeds far and wide. And in the same way that buying cheap Chinese goods over locally made produce is bad for our economy – indigenous plants begin to suffer as their customers (the birds and the bees) buy elsewhere.

The eventual result (to squeeze the last drop out of the analogy) is that our indigenous plants have to close up shop and give their land to the Alien Invasive plants, which leaves their dependents (the animals that live in or eat from their branches) in a rather perilous position – learn Mandarin or die. Ok, maybe I pushed the simile a little too far there…

So, what do we do about this?

Firstly, learn to recognise them.  Whether they’re huge, or (better still) when they are still just a little sproutling. Obviously the sooner you deal with them the less money you have to fork out in eradicating them from your garden, and the less chance they have to spread.

Start in your garden – if we all removed the alien invasive plants in our own gardens, the task would begin to get a lot easier for everybody.

Be ruthless. I say this, because I can’t tell you how often I see an alien invasive plant in a clients garden that they have begun to depend on for shade or screening, and they don’t want the inconvenience of taking it out. If you remove the offending tree/plant, the quicker the replacement plant will grow.

Spread the word. Tell everyone who is interested, and those that aren’t, the perils of harbouring alien invasive plants…

The top 6 to learn to recognise in KwaZulu-Natal:

Chromolaena odorata – Triffid Weed
Litsea glutinosa – Indian Laurel
Cardiospermum grandiflorum – Balloon Vine
Lantana camara
Melia azederach – Syringa
Schinus terebinthifolius – Brazilian Pepper

You can find some pictures of these plants here.

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