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 then). 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.