Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Agapanthus praecox a floral Gem

Agapanthus praecox sups. orientalis

Agapanthus means love flower, the name agapanthus is made up of two Greek words agape love and anthos flower. The Zulu name for this plant is ubani.

Photo taken of a bed of Agapanthus praecox in flower at my home in Mount Moreland

Agapanthus belongs to the plant family Agapanthaceae which consists of only one genus that is endemic to southern Africa, meaning that Agapanthus occurs naturally nowhere else on Earth

This is one of the best known of our South African plants abroad having been first introduced to and grown in Europe since about 1652.

Agapanthus praecox is easy to grow and will even grow in poor soils provided it receives sufficient water in particular in summer. For Agapanthus praecox to perform at its best, it however requires a rich soil with plenty of compost and plenty of water year round in particular in spring and summer. Agapanthus praecox do best in full sun. 

Agapanthus praecox need to be lifted and divided every three to four years to keep them healthy and vigorous this being done just after they have finished flowering. They usually flower best in their first season after having been divided. When replanting reduce the foliage by a third to one half and reduce the roots by two-thirds. Replant immediately and water thoroughly.

Agapanthus are mostly free of pests but can from time to time be attached by the Agapanthus Borer Moth, Neuranethes spodopterodes which is native to South Africa. The larvae bore into the budding inflorescence and as they mature they tunnel down towards the leaves and rhizomes. The Agapanthus borer is often mistakenly referred to as Amaryllis borer Brithys crini pancratii which they are most certainly not. A severe attack can promote rot and may kill the plant.

The introduced exotic European garden snail can at times also do considerable damage if not controlled.

Agapanthus praecox with its neat growth habit and spectacular flowers is an asset and a must for every proudly South African garden and amenity horticultural landscape in the regions where they grow best.

For much of the year the Agapanthus plant does not attracts large numbers of insects or other creatures but when it comes to flowering time they attracts large numbers of bees in particular honey bees to the spectacular blue flowers. And along with the bees creatures that feed on bees such as crab spiders that wait in a flower to catch the fist unsuspecting bee that lands to take nectar and pollen as can bee seen in the photo below.

 A crab spider feeding on a bee that it has just caught.

No proudly South African garden or landscape should be without these most spectacular gems of our South African floral kingdom.

In addition to being spectacular garden plants Agapanthus praecox have many uses in traditional medicine and magic as well as being used as love charms. 

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Acacia karroo one of South Africa's most beautiful and useful trees.

Acacia karroo (Vachellia karroo) Sweet thorn

This is one of South Africa's most beautiful and useful trees.

Acacia karroo

Acacia karroo which is native to southern Africa is a very attractive medium sized tree which due to it´s very wide natural distribution and tolerance to a wide range of soil types makes it suitable as a landscape tree in practically in any proudly South African garden. 

CMR Bean Beetle Mylabris oculata

In addition to being very attractive and suitable as a landscape feature it is also environmentally a very productive tree that attracts very large numbers of insects when in flower in particular honey bees which makes it an asset to any garden. When out of flower it is the host for a large number of insect species including butterfly many or which are a valuable food source for in particular birds. Acacia karroo is fast growing and flowers when very small so there is no need to wait for years to see and to experience the benefits of planting this tree.

Honey Bee Mimic Eristalinus taeniops

Acacia karroo is an integrally part of our country's history having been used for everything from raft-making to sewing needles and fencing for the houses of the royal Zulu women. The thorns were even used by early naturalists to pin the insects they collected!

Common Dotted Fruit Chafer Cyrtothyrea marginalis

A long running debate about the classification of Acacia was resolved at the 2011 Botanical Conference held in Melbourne.

The debate arose out of research over the past few decades which established that the two main groups of acacias (the African and Australian groups) were distinct and needed to be separated into different genera. The debate centered around the issue of which group of plants would retain the name Acacia, based on the following opposing views:

Those supporting the retention of the name Acacia for the African group argued that the genus was originally described from an African species, Acacia nilotica

Those supporting the retention of Acacia for the Australian group argued that the vast majority of species occurred in Australia and that reclassification of those species would incur considerable disruption and expense.

In the end the Australians were the winners and a group of African trees know as Acacias since ancient and biblical times now have other names.

Until the reclassification of the genus, Acacia had about 1400 species spread over five sub-genera.  Now Acacia is a genus of around 1000 species, most of which occur in Australia with another dozen or so being found in Asia.

Garden Fruit Chafer Pachnoda sinuata

What we have always known as Acacia karroo is now officially known as
Vachellia karroo a name that many including myself having voted against the name change will never accept.