Thursday, 16 November 2017

Eragrostis lehmanniana

Eragrostis lehmanniana var. lehmanniana

Eragrostis lehmanniana var. lehmanniana

Common names
Lehmann love grass, Lehmann's love grass

Eragrostis lehmanniana var. lehmanniana is one of the many grasses that I have collected and have growing on my property in  Mount Moreland. This particular species that I collected in Jwaneng in Botswana has been grown because of its most beautiful blue to grey colouration.

Eragrostis lehmanniana var. lehmanniana is a tufted perennial grass. The culms are up to 60-90 cm high with narrow leaves 1-3 mm wide. Panicles are 10-20 cm long, lax and open. Its bunch habit is somewhat open in that individuals do not form a compact crown with numerous stem bases.

Eragrostis lehmanniana var. lehmanniana inflorescens

Eragrostis lehmanniana is native to Southern Africa where it occurs over much of the summer rainfall area. Eragrostis lehmanniana is adapted to semi-arid, tropical and subtropical summer-rainfall areas and is fairly tolerant of drought.

Eragrostis lehmanniana flourishes in areas of low rainfall of 300-500 mm in particular in sandy soils of pH 7.0-8.5. Eragrostis lehmanniana is common in several habitat types such as Acacia woodland and Kalahari grasslands and savanna. It tolerates high pH caused by calcium and magnesium rather than by sodium. It is often found in areas where disturbance or over grazing has taken place.
Eragrostis lehmanniana is a very productive grass. In South Africa, reported yields are 6-7 tons dry mass per hectare per year.

Eragrostis lehmanniana var. lehmannianashowing the colour of the stems

Eragrostis lehmanniana is a valuable grazing grass in the more arid regions where it is one of the first grasses to sprout in the spring and after rains. Eragrostis lehmanniana is also widely used for reseeding disturbed areas because it gives a rapid soil cover. 

Forage management
Eragrostis lehmanniana should not be too closely grazed and must be well established before being grazed. Only half the annual growth should be grazed off, but it can be continuously grazed for maximum production. However, a late summer rest improved the total available carbohydrates, crude protein and phosphorus contents, and allows the grass to seed.

Article written by Michael Hickman 16.11.2017

Saturday, 26 August 2017

The Danger of using Picloram in Environmentally Sensitive Areas

In 2013 I first began noticing what was very clearly herbicide damage and death being caused in particular to two species of tree being Grewia occidentalis and Trema orientalis. I took photos of the affected trees but could not establish the source of or the herbicide that had caused the damage.

Trema orientalis that has been damaged by a very small dose of the herbicide picloram 

More and more I began noticing trees that had been affected or had been killed by what was very clearly as the result of herbicide poisoning but again I could not establish what herbicide had caused the death of the trees and when the spraying had occurred, in some areas the last spraying had occurred a few years previously.

About a year after first observing the herbicide damage to trees and other plants I accidentally discovered the culprit herbicide. 

I had removed a narrow band of bark down to the cambium on three trees on my property and carefully applied a very narrow band of Kaput Gel containing Triclopyr and Picloram in a band of about 50 mm on the bottom half of the area where the bark had been removed. Within a few days I noticed that two trees growing within a few meters of one of the trees started to show signs of herbicide poisoning and within two weeks one of the small trees Hippobromus pauciflorus was completely dead, the second small tree affected was Obetia tenax which very nearly died but eventually after more than three years recovered. For up to three meters along the line of the main roots all dicotyledonous ground cover plants were affected. A wild grape Rhoicissus tomentosa growing about six meters from one of the other trees was also very badly affected clearly from herbicide leached from the tree that had been treated with Kaput gel, eventually over ninety percent of the very large vine died what is left at the time of writing being August 2017 has not completely recovered.

Obetia tenax two years after having been poisoned by picloram which leached from the roots of a tree that was treated some distance away
Once that I had noticed how very small doses of picloram had affected other plants growing nearby I investigated what herbicides had been sprayed in the areas where so much herbicide damage had occurred and discovered Plenum containing Picloram has been sprayed to control weeds in adjoining grassland. In most areas where Plenum containing Picloram had been sprayed 100% of Trema orientalis trees had died.

Trema orientalis that has been killed by a very small amount of the herbicide picloram note the two trees growing beneath it have not been affected
Since then I have kept a very close eye on where ever I have seen contractors spraying or applying herbicides. Time and again I have found that Herbicides containing Picloram have caused excessive amounts of damage and death to a number of species.

I have observed that the following trees as extremely sensitive to very low doses of picloram

Barringtonia racemosa

Brachyleana discolor

Celtis africanus

Croton  sylvaticus

Dombeya cymosum

Ficus lutea

Grewia occidentalis

Hippobromus pauciflorus commonly known as false horsewood

Obetia tenax

Scadoxus puniceus

Trema orientalis

Wild grape Rhoicissus tomentosa

Croton sylvaticus dying after picloram following heavy rains in an area that had been sprayed a year or two before

Research on the internet confirmed what I had recorded but also brought to light some alarming facts as to the danger of using Picloram in sensitive natural areas or near to them.

 As a result of my own observations as well as what information I have obtained from the internet and a number of experts that  I have discussed the danger of applying Picloram with I will certainly never spray with any Herbicide containing Picloram in any natural area neither would I recommend any one else to do so.

I would go as far as to say do not under any circumstances ever spray with any herbicide containing Picloram in environmentally sensitive areas for instance in conservation areas or any other area when no damage to indigenous vegetation may occur. Also do not use herbicide gels containing Picloram and if there is absolutely no alternative then do so with extreme caution and only on plants that cannot be controlled with other herbicides because as reported above picloram leaches from the roots from the roots of plants that have been treated with it killing or damaging desirable plants growing nearby.

Barringtonia racemosa protected tree has been killed by the uninformed and careless use of picloram at the uMdloti river lagoon by an NGO doing alien plant eradication
Damage that has been cause to Barringtonia racemosa a protected tree in South Africa at the uMdloti river lagoon by an NGO doing alien plant removal

This sort of damage to the natural environment and protected trees can be avoided

There is no need at all to use Picloram in natural areas because there are herbicides that are just as effective and are far safer to use so please do not use this nasty herbicide in these areas.

The following information in regards to picloram has been published on the internet.

Picloram is a systemic herbicide that belongs to the pyridine family of compounds, used for general woody plant control. It also controls a wide range of broad- leaved weeds excepting mustards (crucifers). Most grasses are resistant to picloram so it is used in grassland management programs

Picloram can be sprayed onto foliage, injected into plants, applied to cut surfaces, or placed at the base of the plant where it will leach to the roots. Once absorbed by the foliage, stem, or roots, picloram is transported throughout the plant.

Picloram kills susceptible plants by mimicking the plant growth hormone auxin (indole acetic acid), and when administered at effective doses, causes uncontrolled and disorganized plant growth that leads to plant death

Picloram is the most persistent member of its family of herbicides which does not bind strongly with soil particles and is not degraded rapidly in the environment, allowing it to be highly mobile and persistent. The half-life of picloram in soils can range from one month to several years.

As a result Picloram can move off-site through surface or subsurface runoff and has been found in the groundwater. Picloram may also “leak” out of the roots of treated plants, and be taken up by nearby, desirable species.

Concentrations in runoff reported by researchers are often adequate to prevent the growth of non-target terrestrial and aquatic plants, and therefore, picloram should not be applied near water.

Picloram is a dicot-selective, persistent herbicide used to control a variety of annual and perennial broadleaved herbs and woody species. It can persist in an active form in the soil from several months to years, and can also be released from the roots of treated plants into the soil, where other non-target species may take it up and be injured or killed (Hickman et al. 1989). The cut-stump treatment is typically used to control woody species. Picloram is metabolized slowly by microbes and can be degraded through photolysis when directly exposed to sunlight. The half-life of picloram in soils can vary from one month to three years depending on soil and climate conditions. Other methods of chemical degradation do not occur readily. Picloram does not bind strongly with soils and can be highly mobile, moving to soil depths of two meters and laterally to one km.


Picloram is not readily degraded in soils and can be persistent and mobile. Estimates of the persistence of potentially toxic concentrations vary from a few months to three years, depending on soil and environmental conditions (Scrifres et al. 1972; Fryer et al. 1979; Johnsen 1980; Norris et al. 1982; Neary et al. 1985; Smith et al. 1988; Bovey & Richardson 1991; Close et al.1998). In soils where picloram persists for long periods of time, it has high potential to move vertically and horizontally, which can lead to contamination of water sources and non-target (terrestrial and aquatic) sites. Smith et al. (1988) reported that one and two years after treating a site with 3.38 kg/ha of picloram, residues were found in the soils and groundwater of an untreated site one km away


Because picloram is water-soluble and does not bind strongly to soil, it is capable of moving into local waterways through surface and subsurface runoff (Michael et al. 1989). The extent to which picloram enters a waterway depends largely on the type of soil, rates of application, rainfall received post-application, and distance from point of application to nearest water body or groundwater (Trichell et al. 1968; Baur et al. 1972; Mayeux et al. 1984). In general, the larger the buffer between treated sites and surface water bodies or groundwater, the smaller the potential for water contamination


In non-susceptible species such as grasses, picloram is metabolized rapidly, while in susceptible species, picloram can remain intact for extended periods (WSSA 1994). When applied to soil, picloram is readily absorbed by plant roots. When applied to foliage, the majority of picloram (70-90%) remains in the leaves and only a small percentage is conducted to stems and roots (Meikle et al. 1966; Cessna et al. 1989; Hickman et al. 1990). Unabsorbed picloram remaining on leaf surfaces may photo degrade in sunlight or be washed off with rainfall or irrigation.

Picloram absorbed by plants can be released into the soil by passive transport through the roots and then taken up by roots of other nearby plants (Hickman et al. 1990). Therefore, even selective application of picloram to specific target plants could potentially harm nearby desirable plants.


Chemical name:               4-amino-3,5,6-trichloro-2-pyridinecarboxylic acid

Chemical class/use:         chlorobenzoic acid herbicide

Picloram is sold in South Africa under the following brand names






Picloram is found in various herbicide mixes in South Africa under the following names

Plenum - Active Ingredients: Picloram (80g/l), Fluroxypyr (80g/l)

GLADIATOR 160 ME – Active ingredients: Fluroxypyr 80 g/l, Picloram 80 g/l

There are probably other trade names of herbicides containing picloram so please check before you apply herbicides in sensitive areas.


Weed Control Methods Handbook, The Nature Conservancy, Tu et al. 

Extension Toxicology Network, A Pesticide Information Project of Cooperative Extension Offices of Cornell University, Michigan State University, Oregon State University, and University of California at Davis.

Article written by Michael Hickman 20.08.2017

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Some thoughts on constructing and maintaining a natural pool

Nymphaea nouchali
Please take note this is only a brief list of the most important aspects to consider and is not by any means comprehensive 

For a professional fee I will design, give advice and supervise the construction of a natural pool for you.

This is a subject that has fascinated me for much of my life having had my first encounters with fish ponds at my grandparents’ home as far back as I can remember. I used to sit for hours at my grandmother fairly large fish pond fascinated by the wildlife that it attracted in particular the whistling frogs, Hyperolius marmoratus or Painted feed frog, as I now know them. I was also extremely fascinated by the dragon flies, back swimmers and pond skaters that grandmother fishpond attracted. I was not particularly interested in the bright orange gold fish that she kept in it. As a result of this interest I first started constructing small ponds as a school boy. While in Germany way back in time I got to know about the company re-natur in Germany that specialises in the construction and supply of materials for natural pools
Faszination Gartenteich written by Wolfram Franke.

Crinum paludosum
Design and functionality
Most of those who give into the temptation to construct of have a natural pond constructed for them are going to want a pond that is a peasant blend of good design and high functionality, in short it must look good at the same time serving its purpose of attracting the largest variety of wildlife into the garden as possible. This is easy to do if the designer knows his or her subject well and follows a few basic rules
There are things that are desirable to have and some that are necessary, what is desirable is not always necessary. If the pool looks like a dogs breakfast it will probably work but not as well as if it is well planned with open patches of water and all the plants in their own preferred places and it will certainly look a lot better if it is well planned

Size of pool
For a number of reasons the larger the pool the better, however ponds the size of an average bucket can work which can and will attract the odd insect of small frog. Generally the larger the pool the more stable it is the more wildlife it will attract and the easier it is to keep in ecological balance.

 Painted Reed FrogHyperolius marmoratus
Depth of the pool
To be most successful the pool must have both shallow and deep sections, most of the plants will only grow in relatively shallow water leaving the deeper sections to remain free of vegetation which is a desirable and necessary design factor
Shallow areas must be created for the planting of most of the aquatics that are desirable for planting in a natural pool

Movement of the water
It is desirable that there is some movement of the water but this is not necessary for the pond to be successful.
The provision of a small low volume pump that pumps daily during the hours of daylight is a most desirable addition to any pond, the pump could be powered by a solar panel. Directing the flow of water over a pebble or gravel stream or over a waterfall will introduce a considerable of extra oxygen into the water which is of particular benefit on hot humid days with little air movement.

Free access into and out of the pool
The design must allow creatures that fall into the pool in error to have a way to escape without being doomed to drowning

Safety of young children
The pool must be designed in a manner that it is not easy for small children to fall into it and drown. Where this is not possible or for additional safety a suitable fence that allows the unrestricted passage of desirable creatures to reach the pool must be erected

Nymphoides thunbergiana
Construction materials
I am not going to go into any detail on this aspect other than to mention a few materials that can be used.
Where the ground water level is high enough all that is required is to dig out a hole which will soon fill with water.
Natural clay can be used to create a natural pond liner
Various grades of plastic can be used
Bricks and mortar
Fibre glass
These are the materials that are most often used to create ponds and pools

Construction methods
Again I will not go into detail on this aspect of pool construction as there are many methods depending on a number of factors.

Containers can be converted to small ponds
Just about any container that holds water can be made into a micro pond which attract wildlife such as frogs and dragon flies
If anyone needs more information please contact me.

A newly emerged dragonfly busy pumping up its wings
Water supply
Water to keep the pool filled can be obtained from the following sources
Mains water
Rain water capture from roofs
Water capture from air conditioners

Pumps and Filters
Neither pumps nor filters are essential however both can improve the conditions within the pool for a number of creatures.
The running times of pumps will be determined by both the design as well as the preference of the owner of the pool. Solar panels can be used to provide power for the pumps.
Bio filters planted with plants can be constructed that provide both filtration as well as desirable features to add interest to the design.
When using a filter do not forget to use a leaf trap.
Use only energy efficient pumps, most designed for use in Koi ponds are far more efficient than the majority of equivalent capacity pumps supplied for swimming pool use

Snoring Puddle
Phrynobatrachus natalensis 
Décor such as waterfalls, streams, rocks, branches can be added
Plant either directly into the soil provided or into planting containers.
Plastic crates lined with shade cloth hessian or even newspaper is ideal to plant aquatic plants into

Planting medium
Use low nutrient clay, sand or small natural river stones.

Nutrition is very important but be very, very careful not to over nitrify the water apply a little at a time and wait for results. Apply at the point of use if at all possible.

Agricultural grade fertiliser rolled up in a piece of news paper,
Agricultural grade slow release fertiliser rolled up in a piece of news paper,
Grow sticks

are the most suitable sources of nutrients for your natural pond.
One can add liquid fertiliser to the water but be extremely careful.

Running Frog
Kassina senegalensis
Control of duck weed Lemna species is most important because if left it can very rapidly get out of control. Control all fast growing species and those that move out of their allocated zone before they get out of hand and take over the pond.
Sludge may need to be removed from time to time. Bio filters will need cleaning from time to time, plants growing in bio-filters will need cutting back from time to time to remove nutrients from the system.

Control of Mosquitos
Mosquitos could become a temporary problem in a newly constructed natural pool but there is no need to panic whatsoever the problem will resolve it’s self as the pond matures and is colonised by insects that eat mosquito such as Dragonfly larvae, back swimmers of the family Notonectidae and pond skaters of the family Gerridae
Mosquitos can also be controlled by the introduction of suitable small carnivorous indigenous fish such as Barbus viviparus (bowstripe barb). If the mosquitos become a problem they can easily be controlled with Mosquito wise, which is a biopesticide containing the Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. israelensis

Selection of plants
Beware of fast growing fast multiplying plants in particular grasses and sedges because most become dominant taking over the entire pond in time making it a dogs breakfast.

Kniphofia pauciflora below is most worthwhile to plant in your pool because it is very attractive and is almost extinct in the wild

Kniphofia pauciflora
Chlorophytum bowkeri
Crinum paludosum
Cristella dentata
Cyperus dives
Cyperus sexangularis
Cyperus textilis
Eulophia angolensis
Gunnera perpensa
Ipomoea ficifolia
Kniphofia pauciflora
Kniphofia rooperi
Ludwigia stolonifera
Nesaea radicans
Nymphaea nouchali var. caerulea
Nymphoides thunbergiana
Persicaria attenuata
Persicaria serrulata
Phragmites australis
Potamogeton pusilis
Potamogeton schweinfurthii
Ranunculus multifidus
Schoenoplectus scirpoides
Typha capensis
Xyris capensis
Zantedeschia aethiopica

Dragon flies
A variety of colourful dragon flies will quickly make your new natural pool their home

The fresh water shrimp Caridina nilotica is a useful addition to the natural pool because it is a scavenger and algae eater which does very well and multiplies very rapidly in a pool that is free of large fish.

Afrixalus fornasinii                            Greater Leaf-folding frog
Hyperolius marmoratus                      Painted Reed Frog
Hyperolius argus Argus                      Argus Reed Frog
Schismaderma carens                         Red Toad
Phrynobatrachus natalensis                Snoring Puddle Frog
Kassina senegalensis                          Running Frog

Greater leaf folding frog
Afrixalus fornasinnii 
Be extremely careful when deciding to introduce fish into your pond in particular if it is a very small pond as fish can do a lot of damage to the aquatic ecosystem in particular eating plants and or eating desirable insects such as dragonflies, water boatmen and pond skaters.
The introduction of suitable small carnivorous indigenous fish such as Barbus viviparus bowstripe barb

Bowstripe Barb
Barbus viviparus 

.For a professional fee I will design, give advice on and supervise the construction of a natural pool for you

Links to further information

Mosquito wise is a biopesticide containing the Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. israelensis

Indigenous Frogs
Afrixalus fornasinii Greater Leaf-folding Frog

Hyperolius marmoratus Painted Reed Frog

Phrynobatrachus natalensis Snoring Puddle Frog

Water boatmen  Notonectidae

Pond skaters of the family Gerridae


re-natur Germany

Michael Hickman
Landscape Design and Rehabilitation Specialist

Tel: +27 82 061 2593


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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Bringing butterflies into your garden

The larger the variety of suitable butterfly larval food plants and plants to provide the adult butterflies with nectar that are introduced into the garden, as well as the more natural it is laid out the bigger the variety of butterflies that will be attracted into it. 
Mother of Pearly Butterfly Protogoniomorpha parhassus aethiops
My own interest in butterflies started as a young child but was really awakened after I was told about the “Garten der Schmetterlinge”  the butterfly garden which had been established in the historical glasshouse of Otto von Bismarck at Friedrichsruh just outside of Hamburg in Germany by Geoff Nichols.  On my next trip to Germany in July 1989 with a wife heavily pregnant with our first child we ventured off from Wilhelmshaven to go and visit the “Garten der Schmetterlinge”. All I can say is that our visit to the “Garten der Schmetterlinge” was a life changing experience which changed my view towards butterflies considerably. Since then my interest in butterflies was really awakened, I started noticing butterflies where I had not noticed them before, I started to note what plants that they laid their eggs on, I started to collect the plants they use as larval host plants and to breed butterflies for release. Now everywhere I go I see butterflies that I never saw before, since then I have gone out of my way to provide conditions in my own garden to attract butterflies.

Below are a few photos of some the most common butterflies that are very easy to attract into any garden in the Durban Area including some of their larval food plants.

The African Monarch Butterfly Danaus chrysippus aegyptius
In my garden this spectacular butterfly is probably the most numerous and is seen for most of the year nearly always feeding on or fluttering around the African Milkweed Gomphocarpus physocarpus which is its chief host plant. I have also seen it lay its eggs on and have seen caterpillars on two other species of plants within the family Apocynaceae being Stapelia gigantean growing on my roof garden as well as Xysmalobium undulatum 

African Monarch Butterfly Danaus chrysippus aegyptius

Xysmalobium undulatum on of the larval food plant for the african monarch butterfly
Stapilia gigantea another of the larval food plant for the african monarch butterfly
African Monarch Butterfly Danaus chrysippus aegyptius pupa with the butterfly just about ready to emerge
African Milkweed Gomphocarpus physocarpus larval food plant for the African Monarch Butterfly
The Dusky Acraea Acraea esebria esebria belonging to the family Nymphalidae 
The larvae of the Dusky Acraea Acraea esebria esebria 
Blue Pansy Butterfly Junonia oenone oenone
Brown Pansy Butterfly Junonia natalica natalica                    
Asystasia gangetica is the larval host plant for both the Blue and the Brown Pansy Butterfly

There are also some very beautiful moths both day flying as well as nocturnal as well as their caterpillars that can be attracted into your garden by supplying the right larval host plants such as the ones in the photos below.

Heady maiden Moth Amata cerbera is a day flying moth
Peach Moth Egybolis vaillantia caterpillar also a day flying specie
Wahlberg's Emperor Nudaurelia wahlbergi
Wahlberg's Emperor Nudaurelia wahlbergi catepillar feeding on Tree Fuschia Halleria lucida
My own garden is home and a stop over refuge to a huge variety and number of butterflies as a result of the plants that I have introduced.

From my own observations I believe that grasses play and important role on attracting a number of butterfly species into the garden. I have observed how butterflies are attracted in particular to the tall growing grasses in particular grasses of the genus Hyparrhenia (Thatching grasses) often spending hours just flying around them or perched on them. Therefore I recommend that some suitable grasses be incorporated into ever garden designed to attract butterflies.

For those who are interested in attracting butterflies to their gardens below are a few colourful plants that can be grown in a garden designed to attract butterflies I have added the colourful Red Hot Poker Kniphofia tysonii which adds such a dramatic splash of colour in the autumn. Many other bright colourful flowering plants can be added that are not necessarily attractive to butterflies but which will add interest colour and be an attraction for other species of wildlife.

For those who need a litle help in making their garden attactive to butterflies I can design and establish a garden for you that will attract butterflies and other wildlife.

Plumbago auriculata an attractive butterfly larval food plant used by the Common Blue Cyclyrius pirithous
Natal Red Grass Melinis nerviglumis, grasses play a signifivcant role in attracting butterflies to the garden
In particular this grass Hyparrhenia hirta plays a signifivcant role in attracting butterflies to the garden
The flowers of Vernonia natalensis are very attractive to butterflies
The flowers of Delospermun linearumattract butterflies and many other insects
This Red Hot Poker Kniphofia tysonii may not attract any butterflies but will atract bees and sunbirds and will certainly brighten up the Garden in the autumn
Ruellia cordata is one of the larval food plants used by the Yellow Pansy butterfly
The spectacular African Dog Rose Xylotheca kraussiana is the larval host plant of the bright red and black Acraea petraea
No garden is complete without a gardener. Here my gardener Mbuzi smelling the inflourescence of the grass Melica racemosa

Michael Hickman
Landscape Design and Rehabilitation Specialist

Tel: +27 82 061 2593


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