Invasives and natives: Hedge your bets

Lantana camara, a pretty pest, often used as hedging.

IT is an attractive, bushy, flowering shrub so it is easy to understand why many gardeners snapped it up to use as ornamental hedges when it was imported from Central and South America.

Sadly, this plant, Lantana camara, a member of the Verbena family, has become a serious problem throughout our province, in much of the rest of South Africa and in about 50 other countries in the world. Even in our conserved areas, conservationists have a constant battle on their hands to keep this notorious weed at bay.

Lantana camara, a pretty pest, often used as hedging.

According to the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (Wessa) it is the most researched weed in the world. In spite of this it is very difficult to control as there are more than 50 variants, many of which are resistant to the tried and tested methods used to combat it.

These methods include pulling small plants out by hand and using various herbicides to control the plant. Biological controls, in the form of insects from the plant’s native home, are having some effect, too.

You can do your bit to control this global nuisance by keeping a sharp lookout for it in your garden.

Birds love the berries so if there is a patch of lantana thriving in your neighbourhood – and there is sure to be one – then sooner or later the seeds from the berries will be deposited in your garden.

Get to know what it looks like as a baby plant and get rid of it promptly before it grows up to become a problem.

Lantana camara is a Cara Category One invasive so if you have a hedge of it on your property you are legally obliged to destroy it.

There are some lovely, fast growing indigenous shrubs you could use to create a new hedge to replace it.

Perhaps its the pretty little pink flowers that first tempted so many people to use it as a hedge in the first place.

There are quite a few pretty pink-flowered native shrubs that could be used to give a similar affect.

One of my favourite indigenous shrubs is the shell bush or Ocimum labiatum, which is fairly easy to find even in nurseries that aren’t too big on indigenous plants.

It is rather dainty, doesn’t grow too large and has a neat, rounded shape so it can well be used as an informal hedge in a sunny spot. A member of the mint family, its leaves have a minty perfume when crushed.

In their book ‘Bring Nature Back to Your Garden’, Charles and Julia Botha point out that a hedge or grove of this plant will soon have plenty of bees, wasps and other garden-friendly insects in attendance.

A newly planted shell bush settles itself into my garden.

One of the best known of our indigenous shrubs, here and overseas, is the tough, hardy and extremely attractive Plumbago auriculata, which transforms itself into a soft blue haze when it is covered in flowers.

The calyx of the flower is sticky so cats and dogs – and even small children – who wander around gardens where it is blooming often come home decorated with the pretty blue blossoms.

A less common relative, Plumbago zeylanica, is very similar but has white flowers.

A flowering Plumbago hedge is a wonderful sight and it often has ‘flying flowers’ , in the form of blue-grey Common Blue butterflies, hovering over it.

Beetles and caterpillars prune these bushes regularly but Charles and Julia point out that this won’t harm this hardy plant – and the insects make meals for passing birds.

A neighbour has a wonderfully wild and slightly unruly hedge of Plumbago mixed with spiky Carissa macrocarpa, commonly called num-num or amatungulu, surrounding his property.

With its glossy leaves and white star-shaped flowers, it goes very well with the softer foliage and hazy blue flowers of the Plumbago.

Plumbago and num-num are used to crate this slightly unruly, flowering hedge.

With the num-num’s nasty thorns, the thick hedge forms a natural burglar proofing that would be almost impossible to breach.

An added advantage is that the num-num’s abundance of red fruit provides the neighbourhood children – and many adults – with tasty vitamin-C laden snacks. Many birds enjoy the fruit as well.


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Judi Davis

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