Invasives and natives: Purple perils and golden leaves

Alien invasive syringa trees can be found in many gardens in KwaZulu-Natal.

IN KwaZulu-Natal, one of the most problematic of our invasive aliens is highly visible at the moment.

With its branches bare of leaves but covered in bunches of wrinkled yellowish berries, it is easy to spot Melia azedarach, commonly called the syringa or Persian lilac tree.

Look alongside our roads and waterways or in patches of natural bush and, at this time of the year, these trees stand out like sore thumbs. It is quite frightening to see how infested the whole countryside is with these troublesome plants.

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They are shapely trees that, as well as having the eye catching berries, bear bright green compound leaves in summer and pretty mauve flowers so it is not surprising that they were brought from Asia to South Africa as ornamentals. According to the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa’s handbook on Invasive alien Plants in KwaZulu-Natal, these trees establish themselves easily, producing an abundance of berries, each berry containing three seeds that germinate easily.

You only need to look at the extent of the problem today to see that this is so. These trees can also withstand extremes in climate and altitude, compounding the problem.

With their yellow berries on bare branches, syringas are easy to spot at the moment.

Being such attractive plants, they have been extensively planted by gardeners and many private and even public KwaZulu-Natal gardens still sport these invasive trees. We can give Mother Nature a helping hand by checking our gardens for them and removing them. The alien invasive handbook describes these pests as very sensitive to ring barking but says care should be taken as syringa coppices strongly. Perhaps it is best to get expert advice if you need to rid your garden of these pests.

A tree that is starting to be as noticeable as the syringe at the moment should not be destroyed but should be made to feel welcome in our KwaZulu-Natal gardens .

Known by the common names of mitzeeri or, very descriptively, as coastal goldenleaf, the Bridelia micrantha doesn’t wait for autumn to put on a show of red and gold leaves. Instead, it colours its foliage as a celebration of spring. Look alongside our roads or in pockets of native bush and you will immediately notice their vibrant gold and copper foliage starting to show.

As a garden subject, my mitzeeris are firm favourites and not just because of their beautiful spring foliage. Even when green and leafy they are lovely trees. They bear small white flowers that are not very noticeable but their black fruit is most attractive. It is also gobbled up by birds that, in turn, spread the seeds, helping to plant more of these trees.

Bridelia Micanthra with its golden spring leaves.

I am fortunately to have three mitzeeri trees in my garden, all planted by birds, so take a look around your property. You might well find the birds have given you a gift of one or two of these gold-leafed beauties. If not, a good nursery that makes a point of stocking native plants, might well have a Bridelia micrantha for sale.

Treat yourself to one to enjoy its colourful spring celebrations.


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Judi Davis

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