Know your alien invasive plant: Belhambra

The fruits and leaves of a Belhamra tree. PHOTO: www.ispotnature.com

THIS week, Hillcrest Conservancy takes a look at the Belhambra, as part of its series of articles on alien invasive plants, to help the community to identify and eradicate them from their gardens.

The Belhambra’s scientific name is Phytolacca dioica but it is also known as Monkey grape, umbra tree, bobbejaandruifboom or belambraboom in Afrikaans or uMzimuka in isiZulu.

Description: It is a large soft-wood, semi-evergreen tree growing up to an impressive 20 meters tall with a buttressed truck loved by children for hiding in and climbing on. Bright green leaves up to 70 mm long. The creamy yellow flowers grow in clusters up to 100mm long. Male and female flowers grow on different trees from September to December.

Where does the species come from? Originally from South America.

What is its invasive status in South Africa? It is now a Category 3 Alien invader that means no sale or trade in any way, no more may be planted.

Where in South Africa is it a problem? Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

Why is it a problem? It competes with indigenous species. Being a large tree, the roots will become a problem for underground pipes and foundations. Extremely difficult to get rid of as when chopped down the roots merely begin to sprout new trees creating a multitude of new plants. In urban areas seedlings often germinate along fence-lines or walls and can cause considerable damage to property if they are allowed to grow to a tree size.

How does it spread? Seed dispersal.

Does the plant have any uses? Mostly used for shade and impressive garden ornament.

Contact Ian Pattrick on 079 909 5458 or Hillcrest Conservancy chairman, George Victor, on 073 901 3902 or e-mail georgevic@telkomsa.net

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