Osteospermum moniliferum. The pretty flowers are attractive to insects, especially butterflies, but when the fruit gets ripe it becomes the turn of many garden birds!
The Bush Tick-berry
Thesecondplantinthisseries,the Bush Tick-berry Osteospermummoniliferum (previously known as Chrysanthemoidesmonilifera), hasbeenselectedto satisfy impatient gardeners or those with new gardens. This is because it can be relied upon to produce quick results,being a fast-growing species which falls into the group of plants known as pioneers.
Charles and Julia Botha
Members of this group grow particularly fast and, in so doing, provide protection for the slower- growing species. After the slower plants have caught up, the pioneer dies out while its offspring are coming up elsewhere in, for example, grassland or some disturbed area. This is how forests are formed. So, to imitate nature, plant the slow- growing species near your pioneer for the best results. As a rule of thumb, the faster the growth The pioneer O. moniliferum can be expected to flourish
for about can be expected to flourish for about ten years, after which it usually becomes woody and is best replaced with new offspring that are sure to be found nearby.
Surprisingly, O. moniliferum is totally underutilised as an attractive, bird-friendly garden plant. It is an evergreen shrub or small tree and grows naturally from inland rocky hillsides, at an altitude of up to 2 400m, to coastal dunes. Ideal for making a hedge, screen or windbreak, this is also an excellent plant for consolidating sand in coastal regions where it will withstand salt spray.
O. moniliferum is a vigorous grower which, while not fussy, prefers soil that is well-drained. Its only ‘hang-up’ is that it insists on a generous dose of sunshine. A variable and versatile plant, it has six subspecies that occur over a wide range of the country, from windy Cape Point to Mpumalanga Province. The similar-looking but smaller O. incana would be a better choice for our drier areas, such as the Northern Cape and West Coast, which form part of its natural distribution area. Its leaves are greyish and the plant makes an ideal bushy ground cover in wind-swept areas.
Almost all year round, but reaching a peak in winter, O. moniliferum is covered with yellow daisy- like flowers. These attract butterflies, bees, beetles and other insects, much to the delight of insect- eating birds. The colours of different flowers play an important role in attracting pollinators. Yellow flowers attract all the main insect pollinators and a very large number of butterfly species show a strong preference for this colour.
The purplish-black ripe fruits, which look like fat ticks, give rise to the common name, while the species name moniliferum, meaning bearing a necklace, also refers to the fruit. These sweetish ‘ticks’ are edible and taste reasonable to the human palate, but do not have much flesh. They are reputed to have formed an important part of Khoi and San food in days gone by and the often- used alternative name, Bietou, is derived from the Khoisan name for the plant. Nowadays, it is mainly the birds and monkeys that rate the fruit great! Starlings and African Olive-Pigeons (previously known as Rameron Pigeons) just can’t stay away and we have been surprised to see even the insect-eating Cape Robin-Chat (previously known as Cape Robin) enjoying the berries. When the plants are in fruit it seems that all the usual fruit-eaters, especially mousebirds, are permanently resident in the garden.
Fruit-eaters, such as mousebirds, never seem to leave this plant. (Photograph: P Vos.)
About ten different species of fruit-eating birds have been recorded to eagerly snap up the black berries. In the bush the leaves are browsed by many animals including South Africa’s smallest antelope, the tiny blue duiker, which can weigh as little as four kilograms.
Besides the fruit-eaters, many bird species are continually searching the leaves to locate the hidden, nutritious caterpillar meals. This is because, besides being used by the caterpillars of half a dozen or so moth species, O. moniliferum is the larval food-plant of six species of butterflies, while O. incana hosts seven. For
Because Osteospermum moniliferum is a host-plant to so many insects, birds like the Tawny-flanked Priniacontinuously examine the somewhat succulent foliage for tasty bird meals. (Photograph: P Vos.)
both plant species these include a butterfly with the amazing common name of Jitterbug Daisy Copper, while among the caterpillars using O. incana are those of the equally strangely named butterfly, Donkey Daisy Copper.
While the Natal Opal butterfly Chrysoritis natalensis frequently lays its eggs on O. moniliferum, both plant species also host the larvae of the Common Opal butterfly Chrysoritis thysbe. This butterfly shares its species name with Thysbe, who was one of the characters in the play within a play in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Common Opal, which also uses several
The male of the pretty Common Opal butterfly Chrysoritis thysbe. This butterfly uses Osteospermum moniliferum as a host plant. (Photograph: S Woodhall.)
The larva (caterpillar) of the Common Opal butterfly Chrysoritis thysbe can vary in colour and may be brown or grey, and sometimes red at the tail end. This green one is most commonly seen. (Photograph: A Heath.)
other indigenous plants to feed its caterpillars, is found from the Cape Peninsula northwards to Hondeklipbaai and eastwards, about as far as Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth). It is a pretty little creature with copper wings that have blue bases.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating contributions O. moniliferum makes to garden wildlife is that it is the host-plant of at least four tortoise beetle species. Tortoise beetles are named for their shape, and some species have beautiful metallic colours; one is even called the Fool’s Gold Beetle. These exquisite little jewels are seldom found far from their larval food- plant and, like butterflies, are usually host specific. Interestingly, the larvae of most tortoise beetles have distinctive feeding patterns which betray their presence on the plant. With well-developed spines around the edge of the body, the larvae have forked tails on which they have the strange habit of collecting excreta and cast-off skins. The tail is waved about when the larva is disturbed, presumably in an attempt to divert the aggressor’s attention.
The beautiful Fool’s Gold Tortoise Beetle Aspidomorpha quadriremus is widely distributed in the south and eastern parts of the country and is sometimes seen in indigenous gardens where no insecticides are used.
Although O. moniliferum is available from many nurseries, you can also propagate your own plants from seeds or cuttings. Because of all the different subspecies, you are likely to get the best results if you take seeds or cuttings from a plant in your area or, when purchasing a plant at a nursery, enquire where their stocks originated. For example, a specimen from the Cape will not be happy in the summer rainfall area and a plant adapted to the KZN coast will soon succumb in a frosty inland spot. As mentioned in our first article it is always best to stick to locally indigenous, in other words plants that occur naturally in your area. (This is not to be confused with endemic, which term refers to plants that occur only in a particular region and nowhere else in the world.) Pioneer plants are usually the first to colonise disturbed areas so, if you don’t pull up everything that you haven’t planted, you may find some specimens of O. moniliferum already growing in your garden
by courtesy of a bird such as your resident Dark-capped Bulbul or ‘toppie’. An early pioneer, it is also part of the advance guard converting grassland to forest. So, if you are lucky enough to live near any of our remaining grasslands, be wary of planting O. moniliferum nearby. In Australia, where O. moniliferum was introduced as a garden plant and to stabilise soil, it has spread like wildfire and is now regarded as one of that country’s worst weeds. Scientists are experimenting with caterpillars of a South African moth, in the hope that these can be introduced to overcome the problem. Of course, most invasive alien weeds are pioneers in their home countries; that is why they spread so easily in suitable areas where they don’t have their usual enemies. For example, St John’s Wort Hypericum perforatum, with its bright yellow flowers, can be seen over wide areas of the Western Cape as dense stands crowd out both farmlands and natural vegetation.
Peanut Butter Cassia Senna didymobotrya is an example of a dreadful problem plant, which was introduced as an ornamental to satisfy the whims of some gardeners.
Introduced accidentally during 1942, in a consignment of other seeds planted near Stellenbosch, this European citizen has outstayed its welcome here as well as in other countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Canada and the USA. Propagation is by suckering as well as by seed. Thousands of small, sticky seeds are produced annually, and are not only distributed by wind and water but are also spread easily by adhering to animals, shoes, vehicles and implements.
In the eastern part of the country, the deceptively attractive Peanut Butter Cassia Senna didymobotrya is invading our grasslands, riverbanks and coastal scrub at an alarming rate. Like so many of our problem plants it started its relentless march across the countryside as an exotic garden plant, having been widely cultivated as an ornamental and for hedges. Bright yellow flowers are grouped into spikes with brown tips and smell like peanut-butter. The leaves, and to a lesser extent the rest of the plant, are poisonous. Originating from tropical Africa, this many
stemmed, perennial shrub or small tree bears flattened pods, grows quickly, and is difficult to control. Spread rapidly by seed, it is commonly seen on roadsides. From South America, the equally invasive Easter Cassia Senna pendula, with its attractive yellow flowers, is still harboured by some less environmentally conscious gardeners.
Another good example of an invasive foreign plant with attractive yellow flowers, and also often seen at roadsides, is the Mexican Sunflower Tithonia diversifolia. Once again, it launched its invasion disguised as a garden ornamental on account of its pretty daisy-like flowers. It is now out-competing indigenous plants in our savanna, grasslands and on riverbanks at low altitudes in the eastern part of the country. So, while our O. moniliferum has yellow flowers, all that glitters yellow is clearly not gold! The slightly fleshy leaves of O. moniliferum contain alkaline substances, and settlers used the ash from burnt stems and leaves to make soap. The plant also plays an important part in traditional medicine.
The Mexican Sunflower Tithonia diversifolia is one of an endless list of plants with yellow flowers, from all over the world, which have become invasive in our country.
The Easter Cassia Senna pendula in an environmentally unfriendly garden! Unfortunately the other plants are the invasive Indian Shot Canna indica.
In Lesotho, leafy branches are burned to cure madness, and one of the uses in Zulu medicine is as an enema for fever. Small, frequent doses of juice from the fruit are traditionally administered by Zulus, Xhosas and Sothos as ‘blood strengtheners’ and as ‘purifiers’ to men suffering from impotence. And teenagers may be interested to know that the plant is also used traditionally to clear pimples! Acknowledgements: Hugh Glen, Alan Heath, John Ledger and Steve Woodhall are thanked for their assistance.
Charles and Julia Botha are the authors of Bring Nature Back to your Garden of which the first edition won a University of KwaZulu-Natal book prize for popularizing science. It explains the important conservation-friendly gardening principles in easy- to-understand, non-scientific language and has now been split into two editions: one for the western part of the country and another for the eastern and northern regions. There is also an isiZulu edition. Their follow up book Bring Butterflies Back to your Garden, describes over 500 recorded butterfly larval host-plants. All proceeds of their books go to the Botanical Education Trust, which funds research aimed at conserving South Africa’s indigenous flora. The books are available from the Flora & Fauna Publication Trust at https: /www.floratrust.co.za/ or request your local bookstore to stock them!
Charles & Julia Botha
34 | African Wildlife & Environment | Issue 80 (2021)