Invasives and Natives: Mellow yellow in the spring garden

Pretty but dangerous, the alien invasaive cat's claw creeper also has a bright yellow flowers.

THE weather has been chilly lately but one of my favourite shrubs has started to flower, reminding me that spring is not too far away.

Botanists call it Ochna natalitia, Gardeners have given it the rather quaint name of Micky Mouse bush. This is because of its bright red and black fruit that, with a bit of imagination, resembles the popular Disney character.

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I have two of its relatives, Ochna serrulata and Ochna chilversii, growing in my garden as well. Ochna serrulata is a slightly daintier version of Ochna natalitia and has smaller serrated leaves.

Ochna chilversii, very similar to its fore-mentioned cousins, is one of those Pondoland specials that many local indigenous gardeners collect.

All three, though, are magnificent shrubs that start off with a glorious spring floral display when they cover themselves with quite large, bright yellow flowers.

Then come the bright red and black fruit that are just as eye-catching. Even when the last of these strange fruit has disappeared or has been disposed of by hungry birds, these neat little evergreen shrub are attractive additions to a garden.

Flowering Ochna natalitia or Micky Mouse bush.

Another plant in this genus is the Ochna barbosae, found in sandy coastal areas far north of us. It is particularly noticeable at Tembe Elephant Game Reserve when its flowers turn to fruit. Instead of the usual red, the calyx is the prettiest ice-cream pink. Look out for it if you are visiting that lovely reserve towards the end of spring.

If you haven’t any of the Ochna species growing in your garden, visit a good indigenous nursery or scrounge some seeds from an indigenous gardener friend – they seem to grow quite easily from seeds. Make sure you have an Ochna of your own by the time spring rolls around again next year.

If you haven’t got space for it, check that you aren’t harbouring any undesirables that need to be evicted.

By getting rid of any invasive aliens you might well find enough space to plant an Ochna or even a small groves of these delightful shrubs.

One invasive alien that also sports attractive yellow flowers but really should be removed as soon as possible is the cat’s claw creeper (Macfadyena unguis-cati), a vigorous, evergreen climber with claw-like tendrils and bright yellow trumpet shaped flowers. A pretty plant, it was imported from Central and South America for ornamental purposes. It is particularly troublesome in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

According to the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (Wessa) handbook on invasive alien plants, this garden escapee is a creeper that can grow to enormous lengths and can scale tall trees in huge masses. As can be imagined, it can easily kill indigenous trees and it prevents the growth of indigenous vegetation.

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Getting rid of it can be difficult. Its tubers can grow up to 400mm long and are difficult to remove as they break up. All the same, persevere and dig each root out completely- then treat yourself to an Ochna or two to brighten up your spring.


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Judi Davis

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