Bugweed

My experiences with the ubiquitous Joburg pest-plant

Growing up my father was both an honorary Forester and part of a team from the Roodepoort Hiking Club involved with building new hiking trails. As kids we were often taken along for the inevitable bundu-bashing that’s involved in such endeavours.

On one such trip in the Uitsoek Sappi Forests in the Mpumalanga Lowveld we were taught about bugweed (it LOVES invading forestry plantations) and told that this was one plant we could happily hack away at and cut down whenever and wherever we saw it. I never forgot that lesson and consequently I can spot a bugweed seedling from 5 paces away.

Birds love its fruit, and it consequently it spreads like wildfire — it’s unfortunately everywhere in Joburg, including of course, “my” river. *

Luckily it’s fairly easy to remove or kill and if it’s in your garden or on your pavement, I encourage you to do so. Before I get into how to do that though, here’s some info to help you identify it:

Identifying bugweed

Bugweed is a large shrub or small tree that can grow up to 4m high. It has broad dull green leaves that are velvety above and white-felty beneath, which emit a strong and somewhat unpleasant smell when cut. Young stems are green and also sport the white-felty covering. It has small purple flowers that appear in clusters at the tips of stalks all year round, particularly if it has good access to water (I’ve noticed that the plants really struggle in our dry highveld winters, and rarely flower at this time). The flowers turn into tight bunches of berries which start off green and turn yellow when ripe, which birds like loeries, bulbuls and mousebirds simply love.

Young plants are often found growing underneath other trees or along fence lines and next to walls due to them sprouting from the droppings of birds that have been eating them.

Insects and native plants

Insects are adapted to and depend on native plants

Recently there has been some alarming news about the decline of insects across the world, and it’s something that should concern you if it doesn’t already. (If you haven’t yet heard much about it, just google “insect decline“, or if you’re feeling dramatic: “insect apocalypse” and “insect armageddon“.)

Biodiversity has always been important to me – in fact I’ve even posted here before about increases in insect and ‘wild’-life that has improved since I’ve been building a garden around our home. So naturally, this issue concerns me, and it’s been top of mind (along with everything else that seems to be going wrong with increasing frequency in our environment these days).

I found a really great thread on twitter this evening by a gentleman called Paraic O’Donnell where he talks about what we could do to help sustain instect life. (Read the full thread here). Many things there I wholeheartedly agree with, but one thing in particular stood out for me: his reasoning for the use of native plants.

“So, why do native species matter? Well, for one thing, they are adapted to this environment. They *want* to grow here, and will thrive with minimal intervention. They tend not to be invasive or disruptive to ecological balance.

More importantly, other organisms (like insects) have *adapted to them*, and have come to depend on them for food or shelter.”

I’m always on about only using indigenous (and these days even endemic indigenous) plants in our garden, but if I’m honest I’ve never stopped to articulate the reasons for choosing this route like how Paraic does. I’ve also never considered the importance of them to wildlife (insects included). Yes, I choose plants because they are more suitable to the local environment – hardier, drought-resistant – that local birds like and that attract butterflies, but strangely it never occured to me that these birds and butterflies (and other insects) might actually NEED these plants.

How nice to have a new lens to view my decisions with.

And to be reminded that my gardening efforts and choices continue to have value.

Polyphagous shot hole borer

Our trees are under threat from this small bug

Well, will you look at that. It’s been 2 years since I last blogged. Time flies when you’re focused on other things in life. Anyway…

Hopefully you have heard about the the polyphagous shot hole borer (PSHB) which has found its way to the tree-lined streets and gardens of Johannesburg, posing a very genuine threat to our “man-made forest”.

I’m not going to repeat the information that already exists on many sites and forums online for you here though. I am however going to compile and maintain a list of links and info that I personally find relevant*. I was starting to do this anyway in order to learn more and to have all the info I need in one place to reference, and then I figured I may as well do it online in a place where you can use it too, should you so wish. And what better spot than my (almost defunct) blog?! (Also, hopefully it adds one more link to the Googleverse which one more person might see thereby raising that one little bit more awareness.)

So without further ado…

3 primary (official?) resources:

PSHB.co.za

Web: http://polyphagous-shot-hole-borer.co.za/
Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Johannesburg Urban Forest Alliance (JUFA)

Web: http://www.jufa.org.za/pshb.html
Follow them on Facebook and Twitter (Info about PSHB comes up pretty often on their twitter account, but if you are into trees, forests and urban nature in general, I recommend following them.)

Forestry & Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI)

Web: https://www.fabinet.up.ac.za/index.php/research/7
FABI does have social media channels, but PSHB info on their Twitter feed is mostly retweets of info from Fungal biologist Wilhelm de Beer and their Facebook presence is a group that appears to be more company focused. Personally, I’d rather just follow the man who very clearly knows a lot:  Mr de Beer.

Other sites of interest:

Social media-related info:

People to follow:

PSBH  (@ShotHoleBorer)
The team from PSHB.co.za, facilitated by Hilton Fryer

TreeWorks  (@TreeWorks_JHB)
Jhb tree care specialist company, owned by Julian Ortlepp

Wilhelm de Beer  (@zwdebeer)
Fungal biologist, Professor at FABI

Useful hashtags:
#PSHB, #PolyphagousShotHoleBorer, #shotholeborer


List of affected trees:

The most comprehensive list of affected trees is currently on the FABI website.
However for a newbie tree-learner like me, I still need to figure out what tree it is, never mind if it’s infected. For that I need a handy list of links for the actual trees. I shall focus on the primary ones (reproductive hosts) as listed on PSHB.co.za

Indigenous:

Exotic:

  • Trident (Chinese) maple (Acer buergerianum)
  • Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)
  • Pink flame tree (Brachychiton discolor)
  • American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
  • Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
  • Avocado (Persea americana)
  • London Plane (Platanus x acerifolia)
  • Pin oak (Quercus palustris)
  • English Oak (Quercus robur)
  • White willow (Salix alba)

Exotic and invasive:


Where and how to report it:


* PLEASE NOTE: 
This is primarily a personal reference space. If anything is incorrect, please let me know and I will fix it or remove it immediately. I do not claim to be the expert in this issue at all, nor should this blog/reference be seen as an official or fully comprehensive source. While I aim to have up-to-date information and will add and remove to this page continuously as I learn more, I cannot vouch for its accuracy. I'm not affiliated with any organisations or initiatives either.
Always contact the scientists and arborists who know best.

Worrying about water

Quote

I posted this image on the right quite a while back, and it feels more appropriate now than ever before. I’m so incredibly concerned about the water issues in Joburg and what worries me most is everyone’s apparent indifference to it.

In environmental circles a few years ago, there were warnings of drought and predictions of water restrictions. No one outside of those circles really listened. Share a predictive date that’s 5 or 10 years away and it’s apparently so removed from anyone’s reality that it’s not taken seriously. There are theories out there that say the human brain isn’t able to take threats seriously until they are imminent – but now that we have the very real threat of a lack of water, the average Joe still doesn’t appear to be taking it seriously.

Yes, there have been a few news articles in the paper, and the odd interview on radio. There’s the odd water-related hashtag floating about and most people are aware of the 6am-6pm restrictions. What’s missing for me however are the conversations around it, the mobility of the masses around it, or support from media and business. Very few appear to be talking about this issue with any sense of urgency.

Don’t we care? Don’t we understand? Is it not newsworthy enough? Or am I just not tuned into the right channels?

Admittedly, I actively insulate myself from everyday news channels, but the pertinent issues always rise out of the noise for me to find out about. In fact, I’ve found it a very effective way of filtering out the bullshit. So, the fact that I don’t hear much about our water crisis without actively going to look for the info, worries me greatly. It feels like the water issue and social encouragement to behave responsibly with our water supply is not finding a way to be heard, shared and acted upon.

Am I alone in feeling this way? Please let me know – I’d love to be proven wrong on this issue. I’d love to hear that everyone else is as concerned as I am.

Subterfuge in the kitchen

There is deception going on in my kitchen in the name of greening. I feel a little uncomfortable about it, so in order to nullify my guilt, I am coming ‘clean’.

Here it is: I repackage green cleaning products into the “known” but non-green equivalents. Gasp! 

Here’s why: My housekeeper is a lovely old lady, very set in her ways, and I’m guessing not too well educated. In her world, there are a limited number of brands that you can/should/must use to do the tasks needed when cleaning a home. Omo or Surf for cleaning clothes. Handy Andy, Domestos, Windowlene, Mr Muscle, Toilet Duck and Sunlight dish wash liquid for cleaning the home. Nothing else is acceptable.

I’ve explained that there are many better alternatives – ones that we all know are better for both her health and the environment – but I’m not certain she a) understands or b) believes me.

Either way, I keep getting requests for all these specific things, even though there are full bottles of green substitutes sitting in the cupboard. I cannot bring myself to buy the chemical brands, so I’ve resorted to buying the green versions, decanting them into the “known, loved and expected” branded bottle and (so far) she’s happy.

And then I’m happy. (Even though I’m technically lying).

You could argue this is a bit of a #firstworldproblem, but seriously, does anyone do this sort of thing in the interests of keeping a green home?

Visualising overpopulation, overconsumption

The Global Population Speak Out site has a number of rather scary images showing the impacts of overpopulation on our world. I’ve picked just one below to share with you – the one showing our computer waste (it felt appropriate seen as I’m always behind a computer, as I’m sure many of you are too.) Go take a look at all the other pics/postcards and think carefully about your impact on this world.

Trashing-Planet-Computer-Dump