Invasives and Natives: Glorious goodies and baddies

Ipomoea indica smothers the indigenous vegetation and is classed as an invasive alien.

THE vivid blues, mauves, pinks and brilliant white flowers of the morning glory plants make them desirable as garden subjects but beware of harbouring the wrong types on your property. You just might be breaking the law.

Known by botanists by the generic name, Ipomoea, there are about 400 species of this genus in the world, about 50 of them from South Africa. Unfortunately, some of the foreign species are causing havoc in South Africa.

In its invasive alien handbook, the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa singles out three morning glories that have become troublesome enough to make the alien invasive list.

Ipomoea indica is a perennial twiner with a typically trumpet-shaped morning glory flower. It looks very like its cousin, Ipomoea purpurea, a herbaceous annual.

Both are invasive and are found all along the KwaZulu-Natal coast, invading forests, woodland, wetlands, wasteland, river bank, farmlands and the roadside verges.

Fast growers, they drapes themselves over the indigenous plants, smothering them and transforming the landscapes.

The pretty indigenous plant, fig-leafed Ipomoea (Ipomoea ficifolia), doesn’t mind the sea air.

Unfortunately the lovely moonflower, Ipomoea alba, with gorgeous white flowers that open at night, is also a problem alien invasive that cannot be planted.

As pretty as these pests are, there are plenty of equally pretty native morning glories, some of which you might well find at specialist indigenous nurseries or the annual BotSoc Indigenous Plant Sale and Fair, held in Durban every September.

The indigenous species you are most likely to spot is the very lovely fig-leafed Ipomoea (Ipomoea ficifolia), a hardy species with a crinkly heart-shaped leaf.

It doesn’t mind the harsh salt laden winds that pound the rocky areas close to the sea and it really is an attractive addition to the year-round floral display that is offered by our gorgeous, well-vegetated shoreline.

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If you are interested in finding out about the beach vegetation buy yourself the pocket-sized ‘the Beach Book’ written by the late Gerry Gosnell, a committed conservationist who contributed a great deal to the South Coast’s green movement.The book was published by the Flora and Fauna Publications Trust.


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Judi Davis

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