Friday, 18 April 2014

Yellow Ground Orchid Eulophia speciosa

Yellow Ground Orchid 

Eulophia speciosa 

IsiZulu: Umabelejongosi Ompofu; Umlunge Omhlophe

Eulophia speciosa growing and flowering very well under harsh conditions on my roof at Mount Moreland


Eulophia speciosa is aptly named ‘speciosa’ – Latin for ‘beautiful, handsome and showy’.
Eulophia speciosa is a terrestrial perennial plant producing 3 - 6 leaves 15 - 65cm long on a central flowering stem up to 150cm tall. The stem grows out of an underground string of pseudo bulbs which are 4 - 6 long and up to 4cm wide


Eulophia speciosa is a species of terrestrial orchid has a wide distribution range being from Western Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Ethiopia, most countries of the central and eastern parts of Africa, from Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, northern Botswana and north eastern Namibia to Swaziland, Mozambique and South Africa where it occurs from the Limpopo, Mpumalanga, southwards to KwaZulu-Natal through the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape as far as the George-Knysna area.


The plants normally grow in savannah grassland, bush land and wooded grassland, and have also been recorded from marshy coastal grassland and montane grassland. They are found in grassland from near sea level often exposed to salt spray to 1 700 m in southern Africa, and up to 2 000 m in East Africa. In South Africa the plants usually grow in colonies of up to 50 plants generally in sandy soils but are also found growing in clay soils. This wide-ranging species is obviously rather adaptable, and can therefore thrive under different conditions in cultivation although it is not likely to survive very severe frost.


The flowers of this species are deceptive and offer no nectar or other reward to the pollinating insect. Pollinators are large carpenter bees (Xylocopa sp.)

I have seen these Giant Carpenter Bees Xylocopa flavorufa pollinating my plants at Mount Moreland

Cultural uses

Root infusions of Eulophia speciosa are prepared as emetics for both humans and animals. In traditional medicine, emetics are widely used to facilitate the removal of what is thought to be the cause of the ailment.
Eulophia speciosa plants are also used as a protective charm against storms.

It is reported that Eulophia speciosa bulbs are a favoured food of local people within the plants native range, and are extensively harvested from the wild for local use.
Often eaten raw, sometimes with a little salt, as soon as it is harvested, the bulb is also mashed up and mixed with other raw food plants such as Talinum spp., Dipcadi glaucum and Kedrostis foetidissima. The pounded roots are also added to soups and sauces

Growing Eulophia speciosa

I have grown Eulophia speciosa for about the last 50 years and have found them easy to grow keep an eye on them but be aware that too much care can kill them.

Eulophia speciosa is often a pioneer plant generally on poor sandy soils near the coast in its natural habitat which matures to flowering size in between two and three years depending on conditions.

Over the last few years I have trialled these plants as green roof plants with great success under conditions where they only receive natural rainfall mostly in the summer months. I trials they have proved to be most suitable for growing on extensive green roofs that receive little maintenance and supplemental watering.

Eulophia speciosa are best grown in pots of large growing containers where they are safe from attack by mole rats or planted out in garden beds where they will need to be carefully monitored for attack by mole rats. If mole rats find them then they will probably need to be lifted and put into containers because once found the mole rats will not leave until they have eaten the last bulb. Eulophia speciosa needs to grow in full sun for much of the day to flower well and to remain healthy.

In the growing period, the substrate should be fairly moist, but a constantly wet soil must be avoided. Plants are best transplanted and divided in the dormant season, and should be potted. Eulophia speciosa are to some degree dependent on their mycorrhiza fungus species but it is certainly not necessary to inoculate the potting medium with mycorrhiza fungus because the roots of the plants will already have their populations living within them.
Suitable drainage must be provided to prevent water logging in times of prolonged heavy rain to avoid rotting of the roots. Regular watering should not be needed, only during periods of drought will they need additional watering. An annual topdressing with well rotted leaf mould or bark compost mixed with a little slow release fertiliser and a little lime is essential for healthy sustained growth of the plants. Occasional feeding with a liquid fertilizer during the growing season will do no harm but do not overdo it or the plants will become weak and will be far more susceptible to bacterial rot and fungus attack. 

Although Eulophia speciosa has great hybridizing potential I strongly discourage doing so because of the possible contamination of wild specimens.

The simplest way to propagate Eulophia speciosa is by division of dormant back bulbs which are removed leaving three healthy pseudo bulbs for continued growth.

To produce large numbers of plants in a short period of time propagation will need to be done by means of planting seed. Practically every flower will produce viable seed pods if hand pollinated regardless if they are self or cross pollinated, but do not overdo or the plants will become weakened by the effort of producing too larger amount of seed, 5 seed pods per plant should be fine.

The seed can then be grown in vitro in a suitable growing structure with ease if suitable equipment is at hand, otherwise you can simply do what I have done for years and that is to simply plant the seed in prepared seed beds which I have done over the years with a good degree of success. I also find many seedlings that just pop up in the garden from time to time from seed that my plants produce.

Young healthy plants flower about 2-4 years after sowing.

Some of many Eulophia speciosa plants undergoing suitability trails as green roof plants on one of my roofs at Mount Moreland

Pests and diseases

A number of pests feed on Eulophia speciosa such as leaf miners and the yellow orchid beetle Lema pectoralis which do a large amount of damage to the plants if not dealt with promptly.

Yellow orchid beetle Lema pectoralis

Bacterial rot due to over watering, watering during the dormant season, crowding and insufficient air circulation can be a problem. If planted out in large numbers in garden beds, the plants most probably will eventually be eaten by mole rats that feed on the pseudo bulbs. If the Mole rats find them then they will have to be lifted to be placed in containers or they will eat every last one.

Landscape uses

Eulophia speciosa is a very showy and desirable plant to include in any landscape design or garden.
Eulophia speciosa makes a good container plant for the patio and brings colour and life to the green roof be it big or small.

General Information

Eulophia speciosa is the floral emblem of the South African Orchid Council

Michael Hickman
Landscape Design Specialist


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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Hibiscus surattensis

Bush Sorrel

Isigezo , Ucathucathu , Uvemvane (z)

French: Liane oseille

Hibiscus surattensis is generally widespread throughout the Old World tropics being and in South Africa where it occurs in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga.

Hibiscus surattensis is an annual herbaceous, trailing or scrambling plant of moist waste places, covered with soft hairs and scattered prickles.

Landscape value
This most delightful plant due to the profusion of bright yellow flowers that it produces in profusion in autumn has great potential to be grown in less formal indigenous landscapes that are designed with high plant diversity to attract the maximum of wildlife. I makes a nice bright addition to any landscape or garden where it has been used.

The plant is rich in mucilage. It is often cultivated for the mucilaginous leaves which are eaten in soup or as a vegetable
Plant yields a fiber of good quality.

Traditional Medicinal uses: 
In Senegal the plant is used as an emollient. Zulus use a lotion of the leaf and stem for the treatment of penile irritation of any sort, including venereal sores and urethritis. It is sometimes applied as an ointment for the same purposes. An infusion is also used as an injection into the urethra and vagina for gonorrhoea and other inflammations.

Hibiscus surattensis occurs in grassland and at forest edges in lowland and at medium altitudes up to 1700 m, in regions with an average annual rainfall of 1000–1600 mm. It also occurs in marshes, abandoned fields and plantations, on waste ground near habitation, and in coastal habitats such as sand dunes. It is found on a wide variety of soil types.

Ecological significance
Visited by bees and small flies browsed by game

Michael Hickman
Landscape Design Specialist


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Saturday, 5 April 2014

A garden without wildlife is hardly a garden at all

Ever changing ever new

Our average affluent north Durban suburban garden owner has the most  uninteresting sterile garden possible planted to a very limited number of sterile unchanging plants such as Philodendron selloum cv. Xanadu, bright coloured crotons Codiaeum variegatum, dust collecting Dianella tasmanica variegata, Ophiopogon japonica, Ophiopogon jaburan variegata a never changing boring landscape. Masses of boring single straight stemmed palms, yellow leaved Duranta erecta Sheena's Gold ™ which have been trimmed into hedges, balls and who knows what, to me a plant that is this colour is  critically ill and needs to be removed. All to be finished of with horrible gaudy purple border bedding plants such as purple setcreasea Tradescantia pallida and Rheoe Tradescantia spathacea

Croton Codiaeum variegatum

The Croton Codiaeum variegatum above is very clearly a magnificent plant that has its uses but it never changes how it looks which in time becomes overpowering and boring and in particular it is sterile, it attracts no wildlife at all it could very easily be replaced in the garden with an identical copy made of plastic and few if any people would be any the wiser. These magnificently colourful plants most certainly do not bring life into the garden.

Change and variety are the spices of life and that applies in particular when planning a garden either exotic or indigenous if one would like to create tranquillity in the garden and to provide the greatest of benefit for the user and observer.

In a Proudly South African living garden planted to our local South African plants there are never two days that are the same, it is ever changing, ever interesting, the  bright yellow bloom of a Hibiscus calyphyllus or Hibiscus surattensis here this morning gone this afternoon a flush of blooms the following day.

Hibiscus surattensis  bright and beautiful ever changing never the same.

Dietes grandiflora and Dietes iridioides which come to their full glory for a single day in the spring and early summer months after a drop in atmospheric pressure, then wait for the next drop in pressure to repeat the spectacle. A blaze of blue from the Agapanthus Agapanthus praecox spp.orientalis for a few weeks during midsummer, a blaze of orange from the aloes during the winter to be followed by a blaze of red from the coral tree Erythrina lysistemon announcing the early spring that attract birds and insect 

A brightly coloured butterfly here and brightly coloured bird over there plucking a bright berry from a Psychotria capensis bush. A brightly coloured carpenter bee sucking nectar from the flower of a Justicia betonica, dragonflies doing their amazing aerial displays, interesting and brightly insects every where.

A brightly coloured carpenter bee Xylocopa caffra sucking nectar from the flower of a Justicia betonica

A bright coloured bird flying overhead to alight and pluck a bright red berry from a Psychotria capensis in full fruit in the winter. An interesting and colourful bug sitting on a flower, interesting colourful insects everywhere you look in the garden. A Striped Skink Trachylepsis striata sunning its self on a stone and one up on the roof garden waiting for a fat fly to pass by, a blue headed tree agama Acanthocercus atricollis sunning itself on the trunk of a tree

A spectacled Weaver Ploceus ocularis building its nest on a Strelitzia tree Strelitzia nicolai outside my kitchen door.

These things are seldom seen and experienced in your regular traditional Durban garden with its mostly sterile tropical and subtropical plants that appear to never change from season to season, day to day, week to week, year to year, never changing always the same. Many of these gardens may just as well be made of brightly coloured plastic and concrete for all the life that they bring into the garden. Well manicured bright un-natural colours, coarse textures.
A well designed garden planted exclusively to our local indigenous plants will be green and tranquil full of interest, full of beauty, with green that comes in every texture, form and shade is ever changing ever new. Every day there is a new surprise, as flower buds burst open to expose a splash of brilliant colour, sometimes lasting only a few hours and sometimes weeks on end then back to the tranquillity of green to soothe the soul.

A very easy plant to propagate and to grow is this magnificent pendulous Gladiolus cruentus a rare critically endangered local gem seldom if ever seen in cultivation in South Africa

A brightly coloured sun bird gently alights on a leonotis intermedia to sip nectar before flitting off to another brightly coloured plant or to hawk a passing insect in mid air.

During the day bright orange paradise flycatchers with their long tail feathers dart out under the canopies of the trees to catch a passing fly and as the sun dips its head below the horizon tiny little bats appear doing tight aerobatics under the same trees to hawk the insects that they feed on.

I look out the window and see a bright coloured Locust Zonocerus elegans which feeds on the milk weed plant Gomphocarpus physocarpus which is also the host plant to the African Monarch Butterfly.

A bright coloured Locust Zonocerus elegans resting on the flower of a grass aloe, Aloe cooperii

A bronze back manikin alights on a grass stem to pluck a seed head of Panicum maximum to build his nest,  later I see him return to collect the fluffy flower heads of natal redtop grass Melinis repens to line it with.

A bright red African Fire Finch arrives on the ground just outside my kitchen door to look for seed and insects.

African Fire Finch Lagonosticta rubricata

The sound of the Crested Barbet that has his home in a nest box I placed in a tree directly opposite my kitchen window only a few metres away, the sound of  Painted Reed Frogs in a small pond of arums in the evening a garden which is a haven for wildlife in all its forms both day and night with interest without end, is this not what a garden should be.

Painted Reed Frog Hyperolius marmoratus

To maximise the life in a garden it must be planned with as large a variety of interesting local plants to create habitat, which provides shelter, breeding and feeding opportunities for all manner of creatures both great and small. Thereafter we need to do little more to encourage life into our gardens, if the conditions are right wildlife will come and stay of its own. The bigger the variety of plants and habitat types the greater the numbers of creatures that will be attracted. The garden must have water, it must have lawn to serve as green pathways and to separate the different elements of the garden. Do not forget a bench here a table and chairs there so that one can sit and relax and enjoy the garden and its wildlife.

African Monarch butterfly Danaus chrysippus on the flower of it´s host plant the Milk Weed Gomphocarpus physocarpus

There is no reason why a garden that is maximised for wildlife should not be planned and planted to the highest standards of landscape design incorporating only our local plants and a slightly different order to what has traditionally been accepted here in South Africa and much of the world.

When it comes to maintenance the garden must still be well manicured just as the sterile traditional garden in particular at the entrance and near to the house but it will need to be a slightly different order, the beds will still need to be edged, the lawn mowed and the weeds removed, no one wants to be greeted by a mess. However the maintenance must not show a misguided sense of order it must not be carried out with sensitivity and not to the detriment of the life in the garden.

All the photos that I used in this article have been taken in my own garden at Mount Moreland north of Durban.

Michael Hickman
Landscape Design Specialist


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Thursday, 3 April 2014

Green roofs bring nature back into your life

Green or living roofs can be designed to be planted onto almost any structure big or small commercial or residential.

If pictures tell more than a thousand words then the pictures that follow certainly tell it all

Here I am sitting on the roof of a five storey building considering what to write about green roofs on this Blog which to many may be hard to believe at first.

Over to the right you can see the bench that I was sitting on with a magnificent natural pond in front of it.

Here is a view of the path leading to the pond in the photo above through a beautifully natural garden planted entirely to locally occurring South African plants. From seeing the photos it is hard to believe that I could possibly be on the roof of a five storey building.

Below provision has been made for an open area to allow for those attending functions to spill out on to the lawn and to enjoy the view of the area.

This Green Roof at 29 Degrees South which is planted exclusively to our local floral treasures is a very fine  example of what can be done when there is the ethic and the will to bring nature together in harmony with man in the design of our buildings and our living and working environments. This is a very good case of leading by example, hopefully and example that many will follow in preserving our natural heritage by combining our unique South African flora and fauna into our urban developments. In this way we can become trend setters leading the world by example.

All the  photos of the green roofs so far have been taken on the green roof of  29degrees South a five story building which was designed for and houses the head office of Dube TradePort which is situated right next to the new King Shaka International Airport north of Durban. 

A very different style of green roof has been created using a large number of local plant species that grow in rocky places and in grassland on very shallow soils to create a bio-diverse Green Roof. This Bio-Diverse Green Roof which I designed and planted to bring the maximum bio-diversity possible is on a government office building at Ixopo in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands

Below is a bio-diverse green roof that I designed and planted on the sand pumping station on the Durban beach front at the entrance to Durban harbour. The plants on this roof are exposed to very extreme conditions caused by the strong salt laden north easterly winds that blow in this particular totally unprotected location.

Below is an example of what can be done by the average home owner on a very small scale around your own home to add interest. The small green roof has purposely not been completed at this stage to be able to show the construction details. When designing and completing your own green roof a cladding will need to be added to hide the growing trays as have been used in this design or to contain the growing medium if no trays are used to make it look finished.

You can create the same effect when planing your next hotel; office park, factory, home, garage or other construction project. It is clearly well worth considering creating a living roof in place of a sterile tile, iron or concrete one all it needs is a little imagination and forward planning on your part and the part of your design team.

The building of a Green roof is a good way to increase the Bio-diversity and interest a of a boring sterile site as in the photo below, in addition green roofs are often good places to grow many plants that do not grow well in deep soils or where there is competition from other plants growing nearby.

Having a green roof can bring nature into direct contact with our offices and dwellings where it can be observed with great ease.
A green roof can merge the landscape with the structures we create in a seamless manner bringing the landscape design right up to onto and into our living spaces.

Green roofs soften the look of our structures and gives them life, they also lessen our impact on the natural environment in which we live in many ways.

The example has been set it is now up to you the reader whether you are an architect, a landscape architect, a property developer or a home owner to take the lead and carry it a step further every one can do there bit.

The Ecoman Green Team Hlengiwe and Michael on a green roof we designed and planted for the eThekwini Municipality in Durban a few years ago.

For those wanting to know a little more about green roofs go to; An Introduction to Designing Green Roofs in South Africa their design, construction and care at my website at