How was your Monday morning? Mine was rather unique! I spent just over 2 hours walking up and down the K60 (otherwise known as Van Der Bijl Ave) in Sunninghill cutting off the flowerheads from all the Pompom weed I could find. And I loved it!
Now, if you have read or know anything about dealing with Pompom weed, you’d know that it’s not really best practise to cut it back as it actually stimulates further growth of the plant. (See this article). So why was I out there with my secateurs? Let’s step back a bit to tell the full story…
Not long after I had written the article on Pompom weed for the Joburg Green Map, I noticed some small clumps of it proudly showing off their purple flowers all along the K60. Every few meters or so there was a plant or two. I’ve never noticed them before and they’re clearly not taking over, so I presume it’s a newish ‘invasion’.
I’ve been meaning to report the sightings for about a month now, but only got around to it on Sunday. My email was prompted because I noticed that City Parks (I presume) had started with grass cutting last week, and had already cut the grass in the central island all along the road. Because I’d left the reporting so long, some of the Pompom weed was already starting to go to seed and it occurred to me that if they just willy-nilly cut it all down together with the veld, they’d be inadvertently spreading all those seeds, and we’d be in for a massive ‘infestation’ in no time at all.
So I banged off an email to every address related to invasives I could find and I got a response early Monday morning from the lady in charge of Invasive Weeds for SANBI – Lesley Henderson. She suggested that if I could, as a short term solution, I should head out and cut the flowers off before the grass cutters got there.
And so that is how I found myself there with bag and secateurs in hand, some cool tunes on my ipod, and a sense of purpose!
Getting stuck in
As I feared, the grass cutters were already at it by the time I arrived, but luckily hadn’t got too far. I started cutting just ahead of where they were working, and I can only imagine what they thought I was up to. I just smiled and waved.
I ended up collecting a full bag of flowering Pompom, and discovered that dealing with it when it’s already going to seed requires rather careful handling. I must have looked like I was handling precious cargo because I cut and bagged each stem individually trying not to let any of those seeds fly away (they become almost like dandelions – light as feather and easily shaken loose.) In fact, a roadworks contractor at the top of the road even asked me what I was ‘collecting’. Like I’m a scientist or something!! Haha
As I walked along focusing on the Pompom weed, I couldn’t help but notice other issues. Of course there’s the litter issue – always so much litter! But also just general neglect.
Many of the lovely new trees that have been planted up that road are falling over and should have been staked when planted. A few lucky ones have been staked, but the ties have come loose and now the trees are doubled over. I discovered one that’s being decimated by termites. No hope for him, but it makes me sad that no-one seems to be even noticing this stuff.
And it’s not just trees – manhole covers are missing in the storm water channels, weeds are growing up between the tarmac and concrete kerbs and so on.
And then there’s the invasive plants. Oh boy – I’m convinced Sunninghill has a massive problem and that no one has realised it yet. Just on and near the K60 you can see Bugweed, Black Wattle, Pampas Grass, Common Morning Glory, Mulberry, Thorn Apple (Malpitte), Lantana, Poplar, Eucalyptus and of course, Pompom weed. Worrying.
Instead of getting down or angry about all these issues however, I focused on the healthy trees, and on the grasshoppers and pretty butterflies I saw. I stopped to watch flocks of 20-30 little birds (quellias, I think) eating seeds in the grass, who all flew together from one spot to another. I noticed spiders and ladybirds in the veld. I marvelled at how this wildlife continues to survive in urban areas against all the odds that we throw at them.
And I focused on how I felt good that I was doing something good, yet small, for my community. Even if they don’t even know that I did it or why it was important.
So, next steps for me are to burn the flowerheads that I’ve collected so that they can’t ever have a chance to germinate.
I’ve also received emails back from other people that I originally emailed and/or who my email was forwarded to. They’ll be adding my sightings to a database so that hopefully the area is monitored in future.
John Kruger, who deals with invasives for City Parks, very wonderfully tried get people to help me yesterday and sent my mail onto the grass cutting dept to get them not to cut yesterday (clearly they didn’t get it in time), so I think he was relieved when he discovered that I had gone out to de-flower (sounds rude!) the plants.
We emailed back and forth discussing that the street tree and grass teams really need to be clued up about invasives. They’re the guys that are on the ground all the time and so are in the ideal place to report and if necessary, deal with, these sorts of plants. (I live in hope.)
At the end of it all, I’m so pleased that I was free and able to change my day’s plans at a moment’s notice so I could help out. I’d like a few more Mondays just like this please!