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.

aliens garden indigenous

Alien Sighting!!

We went to the Botanic Gardens the other day. In case you had forgotten, it is great!! Bot-tastic!! Crumpets with the works, tea, a stroll through the gardens with friends on a sunny winter’s day..  And then the educational ‘Alien Alley’ to remind us of the aliens we shouldn’t have in our gardens..

One sugar or two?
One sugar or two?
aliens flowers garden indigenous

Gardening at night…

These cacti are a fairly common occurrence in Durban and other parts of South Africa. They have an amazing flower that only opens at night and early morning. Commonly known as the Princess / Queen of the Night, the nightblooming cereus, which I have in my garden and had always assumed was indigenous, does in fact originate from Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America.

And as bev18 from Port Alfred comment on this blog:

“We in South Africa regard this plant as an alien invader. It grows all over the place and although I admired it for many years, it was not until a friend of mine showed me the edible portion that I really began to appreciate it. The flower, in the correct conditions, grows into an interesting fruit which when chilled and sliced, is delicious. Not unlike a Kiwi fruit.”

Aesthetic and delicious. Should I chop it?

Queen of the Night 01
Queen of the Night 01
aliens garden


Syringas are my most hated of alien, invasive plants in Durban. They spread like wildfire, grow easily in this climate and are a task to remove. Since coming back to Durban last October I have seen more and more of them, and it seems that many people (myself included) don’t know the details.

A few Google searches revealed that what we erroneously call ‘Syringa’ is in fact Melia azedarach, the ‘Chinaberry’ Tree, which is part of the mahogany family and native to India, southern China and Australia. While some of the facts about the tree sounded familiar; the use of its leaves for medicinal purposes (also in Indian and Zulu communities in KZN) and the fact that its berries are toxic to humans but not to birds (which facilitates the spreading of the plant), I was surprised to find that it is commonly used as timber.

Melia azedarach has a timber of high quality, but is generally underutilised. Apparently, the seasoning of the wood is also relatively simple as it dries without cracking or warping and is resistant to fungal infection. I quickly did the Math. Durban is overrun by these alien and invasive trees that grow to around 12m, which equals a lot of crack-free, water and fungus resistant timber, that could be used as building materials or to make furniture etc. as in the case of Koop.

aliens garden sustainability

Using less water in the garden

Some advice from the latest Enviropaedia newsletter:

  • Always water your plants during the early morning hours or in the evening. Between 10:00 and 15:00 you can lose up to 90% of water to evaporation.
  • Focus on indigenous and non–invasive alien plants with low water demands.
  • Roof water can also be profitably stored in tanks for watering gardens.
  • Use “grey water” from baths, washing mashines and other safe sources to water your garden.
Or better yet, let the rain do your watering (pic from
Or better yet, let the rain do your watering (pic from