aliens environment garden

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.


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.

21 replies on “District 9 and what to do when you find an alien”

great post, ross! v. informative.. as an ongoing project, perhaps we should all try and get some pics of these offenders so people can recognise them more easily..? death to syringas!

Thanks mol-d. I’ve put pics of these 6 on my site, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg – an ongoing project to put the spotlight on their evil machinations is a great idea…

Hey Ross. Interesting post. Any suggestions on how to kill/remove them? We’ve been having a bit of trouble getting rid of some syringas. They seem invincible 🙁

Long ago, invasive aliens were easy to identify. Port Jackson and Hakea. Now there is such a lo-ong list. And it varies depending on which South African climate you are in!

Hey Niall – I have to confess my chemical dependency – Garlon & Diesel on a freshly cut stump is the best way to deal with most trees – including Syringa. Otherwise Roundup or Mamba for smaller things like Lantana. I would use these sparingly and carefully though.
Ringbarking, when done properly is a very effective way of dealing with Alien trees.

You’re right Elephant’s Eye – The list of invasive plants has grown tremendously as we’ve become aware of the problem, and although there are some plants that are worse in different areas, there is still quite a large overlap.

hi ross,

any tips on ringbarking? i test drove this method with a few branches of syringa and it worked well! they died..

however, the tree started resprouting about an inch below the ringbarking…

if i do this on a trunk, how can i make sure that the tree won’t resprout again? ringbark the trunk close to the ground? cover it with soil / paint?

“Garlon & Diesel on a freshly cut stump is the best way to deal with most trees – including Syringa. Otherwise Roundup or Mamba for smaller things like Lantana. I would use these sparingly and carefully though.”

These will work if you put your ethics (on supporting Monsanto and/or using agro-chemicals) aside.

Ringbarking is a far better method, however much more labour intensive. It depends on the scale of the infestation as to your methods. My preference goes for a chainsaw and repeated removal of coppice growth. There was also a previous post on using strangler figs, did you guys try this? Might even be best in combination with ringbarking.

Mol-d – Yes do it as low as possible. If you ringbark the trunk, it usually takes a while to die. It effectively starves the roots of nutrients, so without the roots, it shouldn’t have the ability to resprout. Hold thumbs…

Shaggy – I agree with you on the Monsanto issue – I’d rather not support them, so if you have a suitable alternative I’d be happy to hear it. On a home garden scale your suggestion may be adequate, although I’d be worried that it may make the average person feel discouraged having to constantly fight the same plant over and over. On a bigger scale I think the benefits of destoying the aliens far outweighs the negatives of using chemicals carefully and sparingly.

Black wattles that are not too large ring bark very easly , If you make a cut through the bark at chest level it can then be pulled to ground level as long as there are no side shoots below the stripped section it will die

Goddamn but Indian Laurel are a sonofabitch to get rid of. The sad thing is that – like many invasive exotics – birds love the fruit and do a great job of dispersal. Any boundary fence or wall will inevitably sprout a crop as birds sit on them and crap the seeds out. Many people confuse Indian Laurel with avocado – to tell the difference, crush a leaf: if it smells oily, try to kill it by digging it out. This may present some with a real problem: Indian Laurel roots are incredibly tenacious. Perhaps the Garlon & diesel route is best for this one.

I’m with you Travis – they are the worst – especially in cracks next to retaining walls…
I also find that the crushed leaf test is the best way to identify them.

Apologies, Ross – Blogger is a crap platform and the code is playing up. Considering ditching that blog. If need be get me on hedmekanik at gmail.

Interestingly, several South African plants are “pests” in Northern California, where I live. Calla Lilies and Crocosmia spring to mind.

Can anyone tell me an easyway to differentiate
between Cinnamomum Camphora(exotic) and Wild Camphor(Cryptocarya Myrtifolia).
Much obliged,

Hi Phil, I think the bark is the easiest way to tell the difference on a relatively mature tree. Cinnamomum camphora have quite rough, vertically fissured bark, and Cryptocarya myrtifolia are generally quite smooth. Also, the buds and flower stalks of Cryptocarya are often covered in fine hairs, while Cinnamomum are smooth (if my memory serves me correctly)…

Please can we get pics I think some terorist gardening hacking them out of peoples gardens may be the solution 🙂
Although to confess we have a large syringa tree in our garden and I’ve heard they are also highly poisonous – will take a picture and post.
I hate wattle trees theve destroyed areas of giants castle in kzn!

A few comments:
Firstly, Garlon works well diluted with water, with perhaps a bit of wetting agent added (not compulsary!) Diesel is bad for the soil: It sterilizes it.
Ring-barking should be done as close to the ground as possible. Open up an area about twice as long as the stem is thick. It works well on any thickness pines and blackwattles, but Port Jackson (Acacia saligna)seems to be able to bridge the de-barked area every time.
Cutting down trees without using a herbicide is not effective for some species. It does not work for Port Jackson or Brazilian Pepper. It works for rather large Rooikrans( Acacia cyclops) but not for small ones.
A very effective and eco-friendly way of removing smaller trees, up to even 50 or 60 mm thick, is by using the Tree Popper, a locally designed hand-held device. Look it up on Google: “Tree Popper Youtube Video”. Herbicide distributors don’t like it: It cuts down on their sales!

sounds cool! here is some more info on it:

Tree Popper

Company name: Tree Popper
PO Box 551 Somerset West 7129
Tel: (021) 858 1154
Fax: (021) 858 1563
Cell: 083 302 1640

Name and position of contact person: Frederick de Wet Negus
Main function: Extracts unwanted plants

Designed in direct response to the need for eradication of invasive alien plants, the Tree Popper is a robust, uncomplicated tool that can be used by one person. A simple concept of leverage has been used to ensure the complete removal of unwanted vegetation providing .a permanent solution to a long standing problem.

Manufactured from mild steel, the Tree Popper comprises a lever/handle with a rubber grip and a foot piece firmly held together by a circlip. These two basic parts form a pliers-like jaw that is used to grip the plant stem.

Operation is simple with the jaw hooked around the plant stem, force is exerted on the handle causing the foot piece to lever the plant and its roots completely out of the ground. This simple manual operation has eliminated the need for high-speed blades and other potentially dangerous mechanical operations. No skill is required when using the Tree Popper and women and children can operate it safely.

The Tree Popper is harmless to the environment, and facilitates the permanent removal of alien vegetation without causing any pollution. Use of this rugged implement also eliminates the need for herbicides and other chemicals. It is suitable for use in areas that are inaccessible to other mechanical implements and has been used successfully on mountain slopes and other difficult terrain.

With only one simple moving part, the tool does not require any form of maintenance and is available in three different sizes to suit the individual.

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