Friday, 28 February 2014

Indigenous Landscape Design: Attracting Frogs to your Proudly South African Gar...

Indigenous Landscape Design: Attracting Frogs to your Proudly South African Gar...: Frogs are under threat worldwide, from habitat loss, pollution, and, more alarmingly, a new deadly parasitic fungus known as amphibian chyt...

Attracting Frogs to your Proudly South African Garden

Frogs are under threat worldwide, from habitat loss, pollution, and, more alarmingly, a new deadly parasitic fungus known as amphibian chytrid.

Greater Leaf-folding Frog Afrixalus fornasinii

Frogs and toads play an important role in the ecology of the garden, where they eat insects which make up the largest part of the diet of frogs, they also eat slugs, earthworms and millipedes

Painted Reed Frog Hyperolius marmorata

If you want to play your part and ensure their survival in your own back yard, there are several things you can do to create a frog-friendly garden.

Natal Forest Tree Frog Leptopelis natalensis

Build a pond using a sheet of thick plastic laid into a depression covered with a suitable layer of soil or out of concrete. It need not be large to be effective and it need be no more than 30 cm deep. In fact any container big or small that holds water can be used to attract frogs. Water plants need to planted into the pond to provide shelter and food for tadpoles.

Even more important than the pond itself is the area around it, so suitable local indigenous reeds and other marginal aquatic plants need to be planted in and close to the pond which will then provide an attractive habitat for reed and other frogs.

Natal Dwarf Puddle Frog Phrynobatrachus natalensis

In addition local indigenous shrubs, groundcovers and grasses must be planted nearby to provide additional shelter and to attract insects slugs and other food for the frogs to feed on. The more indigenous plants you have in your garden the more habitat you will provide to make it attractive to frogs. A garden full of sterile exotic plants will attract very few if any frogs.

Red Toad Schismaderma carens

Because all frogs breathe partially through their skin, they are particularly sensitive to toxic chemicals in the environment therefore you should avoid using insecticides in the garden wherever possible.

African Common Toad Amietophrynus gutturalis

All the frogs photographed above and many other species are resident and breed in my own garden in Mount Moreland in a number of small and large tubs, shallow plastic trays, plastic dirt bins and concrete ponds which have been place in strategic positions within the plants in the garden.

If you are interested in the conservation of frogs please go to Save the Frogs at and subscribe to their news letter and if funds are available make a donation to help to save the frogs.

If you would like Ecoman to design you a garden that is attractive to frogs please view my website at

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Indigenous Landscape Design: Trema orientalis Pigeon Wood Tree

Indigenous Landscape Design: Trema orientalis Pigeon Wood Tree: Trema orientalis is a common pioneer tree which belongs to the hemp (dagga) family, Cannabaceae. Pigeon Wood Trema orientalis ...

Trema orientalis Pigeon Wood Tree

Trema orientalis is a common pioneer tree which belongs to the hemp (dagga) family, Cannabaceae.

Pigeon Wood Trema orientalis

Trema orientalis has a very wide distribution in the tropical and warm temperate parts of the Old World. It´s range extends from South Africa, through Africa the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent into southern China, Southeast Asia  including the Philippines and Australia.

Over it´s wide range Trema orientalis has many common names which include pigeon wood, charcoal-tree and gunpowder tree

Trema orientalis has considerable ecological significance being a very productive tree
with at least 14 species of butterfly using it as a larval food plant. Many species of birds are attracted to this tree to eat the vast amounts of small berries that it produces almost continuously throughout the year or to feed on the abundant insects which live on these trees. 

Pigeon Wood Trema orientalis berries

In my own garden they are frequented by a large number of bird species which include Black Collard Barbet, Crested Barbet, Yellow Rumped Tinker Bird, Glossy, Black Bellied, Violet Backed and Redwinged Starlings, Purple Crested Turaco, White Eyes, Thickbilled Weavers, Klaas Cuckoo Diederik Cuckoo, Somber Bulbul, Grey Bulbul, Speckled Mouse bird, Ring Necked Doves and many others. 

The vast numbers of tiny greenish yellow flowers are pollinated by various bee species which attract insect eating birds.

Pigeon Wood Trema orientalis flowers

The leaves are also browsed by game animals and can be used as spinach. This tree is a fast growing species found in previously disturbed areas and on forest margins. It is a pioneer species that can grow on poor soil and can be used to regenerate forest areas by providing shade and protection to saplings of forest hardwoods
Trema orientalis is a nitrogen fixing tree which improves soil fertility for other plant species.

From a conventional landscaping point of view Trema orientalis  is not a very suitable candidate for a landscape feature tree because it often looks rather messy due to its leaves being eaten by just about every conceivable insect however it is a must in every garden that strives to encourage wildlife.

Pigeon Wood Trema orientalis leaves eaten by insects

Being a pioneer tree Trema orientalis is very useful when it comes to establishing a new proudly South African garden in particular on poor soils providing shade and a windbreak for other plants that are being established.

Trema orientalis is invaluable when it comes to indigenous forest restoration where it provides shade, nutrients and organic material in the form of dead leaves and vast amounts of excrement from the many insects that feed on its leaves. In addition it provides protection for the slower growing and more tender specimens. Seeds of many trees are also brought onto site by birds which come to feed on the seeds though this may not always be a good thing where undesirable alien plants seeds are brought in by birds feeding on its fruits.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Lily Grass or Weeping Anthericum

Anthericum saundersiae Synonym. Chlorophytum saundersiae

Anthericum saundersiae is an excellent and very versatile landscape bedding plant that can be grown in the full sun semi and even full shade it is an asset to any landscape design in particular where one would like to plant a productive plant the brings in vast amounts of wildlife into the landscape or garden.

Anthericum saundersiae plant is named after Katharine Saunders plant collector and botanical artist who was born Katharine Wheelwright (1824-1901) in Tansor, Northamptonshire, England  she emigrated to Tongaat, Natal with her husband James who later became the sole proprietor of the Tongaat Sugar Estate in 1860.

I first collected Anthericum saundersiae which I found growing in full sun at the Treasure Beach grasslands in Durban in the late 1970`s. The tiny insignificant single stemmed specimen that I collected grew rapidly under my care and soon started to produce vast amounts of seed which germinated readily under the ideal conditions that I gave it and in no time at all I had large numbers of this delightful little plant. Anthericum saundersiae produces a profusion of little white star like flowers on long thin, arching stems from mid winter into late summer. Some years later I gave a number of my still unidentified plants to Geoff Nichols who took a specimen to the Natal Herbarium at Botanic Gardens where it was identified as Anthericum saundersiae. I grew and sold Anthericum saundersiae in my own nursery in small numbers but after they found their way to the Silver Glenn indigenous plant nursery they were propagated in large numbers making them much more available to the public.
In 2001 I went to stay in Germany where I became familiar with a very similar and popular specie Anthericum ramosa Syn. graminifolium so I was not at all surprised when I returned to South Africa seven years later and found Anthericum saundersiae growing in their countless thousands in nearly every new garden planting in and around Durban. Whether those plants now in cultivation came from the one tiny specimen that I collected way back in the 1970`s or from another source I do not know and probably will never know but the likely hood is certainly high that they did.

Anthericum saundersiae is a very productive trouble free garden plant that grows to about 700 mm which is ideal for the natural garden in that it attracts vast numbers of insects in particular large numbers of bee species from the very smallest to large bumble bees that when they land on the flower they weight them almost down to the ground causing them to bob up and down as they move from flower to flower setting the plants in motion as if they are dancing. I have observed that the foliage is also loved by Scrub Hares, domestic rabbits and in particular Egyptian Geese.
Although Anthericum saundersiae prefers to grow in full sun in fertile sandy soil it is a very versatile plant that will grow under almost any conditions in most soils from sand to heavy clay soils in frost free areas.
Anthericum saundersiae propagates very easily and profusely from seed but can also be subdivided when seed is not available. Seed germinates best in raised seed beds or directly on the ground in prepared sandy soil with a little very well rotted compost added, poor results may be obtained if seed is planted into a bark based growing medium in seed trays

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Attracting dragonflies to your Proudly South African Indigenous Garden

It has been stated by environmental scientists that Dragon Flies in the garden are an indicator of a healthy well balanced environment in addition their sensitivity to habitat quality and their amphibious life cycle make dragonflies well suited for evaluating environmental changes.

Machado’s Skimmer Orthetrum machadoi (female) taken in my garden at Mount Moreland

They are carnivorous not only in the adult stages of their life cycle, but also in their larval stage. The dragonfly is considered as one of the best agile predator around.

During their nymph phase, when a dragonfly has to remain underwater, it eats aquatic insects, worms, mosquito larva, small fish, and little tadpoles. In this phase, it is empowered with a thrust mechanism system to boost its speed while following its prey. It also ejects water from its anal opening to increase its speed in times of need.
They feed on small insects such as bees, ants, wasps, butterflies, flies, and midges. A dragonfly has the ability to move in different directions swiftly. Hence, it can easily out-fly its prey on most occasions
Adult dragonflies often hunt for food in groups, when ants or termites are available in large numbers or when there are swarms of gnats are available in their proximity. Dragonflies keep mosquitoes at bay by feeding on them.

Julia Skimmer Orthetrum Julia (male) taken in my garden at Mount Moreland

It is rather easy to attract these most interesting and attractive insects into a healthy indigenous garden by providing breeding opportunities for them in the form of a natural pond either large or small in fact a tub with a few local aquatic plants is all that it takes to provide a breeding opportunity for dragonflies just as long as no fish are placed in them. There is no need to worry about mosquitoes once the pond had matured and attracted dragon flies as their larvae are voracious carnivores which relishing mosquito larvae.

For biological control to work enough mosquito larvae must survive in the ponds to feed the dragon fly nymphs, which largely feed on mosquito larvae, so a few larvae will always be found in the ponds, however this small number is compensated for a thousand fold by the vast numbers of adult mosquitoes that arrive from other sources that are controlled by the adult dragon flies.

In my own garden I have a number of tubs and shallow containers planted to an assortment of aquatic plants that together with plantings of suitable flowering plants attract very large numbers of Dragonflies to my own garden which act as a very good control for both flies and mosquitos.

Anthericum saundersiae

To help enhance the garden to attract dragonflies the addition of plants like Anthericum saundersiae, Chlorophytum cooperii and flowering grasses which attract large numbers of suitable insect pollinator provide vast amounts of food for these aerial acrobats.