There is a certain irony to driving in and around the Sand River in a diesel Land Rover and moaning about the new crop of invasive plants growing on its banks. Some things however are just more alien in this landscape than others. Mexican poppy (Argemone mexicana) is one of a few intruders that keep us busy throughout the year and it takes both time and effort to uproot it and keep it at bay. It’s wretched to see it back so viciously this year but more annoyingly it happens to be attractive. If you don’t experience a twinge of regret when you upend it – well then put it this way, don’t bother visiting the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.


Will Ford, Varty Camp Manager and Mexican Poppy enemy #1, does his bit to keep things indigenous along the Sand River. Photograph by James Tyrrell

A few of us were off a week ago and we headed down to Finfoot to throw back a few beers and do a poppy clean up. It was a perfect plan really: race down there, smash the poppies in a 20 minute blitz and then stand around in the ankle deep Sand River and watch the sun set over unspoilt indigenous vegetation. An hour however and my back was gone and my hands were bleeding. Never underestimate exotic vegetation especially in this place where pretty and pathetic get gobbled quick. To survive you need to be either fast, poisonous or armed and on closer inspection Mexican Poppy is basically a gazillion thorns laced with poison and topped by a perfect yellow flower that serves a reminder that most things beautiful tend to be dangerous. So it was back to the beer and the Habitat team finished the job the next day.


A close-up of the spiky little plant. Photograph by James Tyrrell

Invasive plants are considered to be the second biggest threat to biodiversity after habitat destruction. I wondered that if left alone it would somehow sort itself out and a biological control would emerge. Not so it seems, and a quick check on the internet confirms that man’s best course of action against noxious stuff growing out of place is to physically chop it down at great expense. There are however one or two novel methods that have appeared over the years to clear unwanted plants and the best of these I found being employed enthusiastically in the U.S.

Rent a Goat allows you to hire for around $350 a day a team of about 30 goats that will happy munch away at stuff that nobody else likes. The seeds are destroyed in the stomach and the environs is left clear. There is also a goat curry to consider when any team members slacken off. I can hear the leopards of Londolozi cheering at the idea of a “Rent a Goat” scheme being employed here and given that goats are known tree climbers in some instances I guess it would save the Mashaba Female having to hoist her kills. She could just throttle her goat in situ.

Sadly, I suspect that not even goats will bother with Mexican Poppy. The poppy itself is native to Mexico and southern parts of the U.S. and contains Katkar or Argemone oil which makes it poisonous to grazing animals and causes epidemic dropsy which amongst other things causes swelling of the legs. I could mention a few rangers who would swallow a spoonful for a bit more definition in the calves (me included). In Mali it’s used to treat Malaria and it can help clear the body of a torn placenta. It also helps with kidney problems and can be used as a mild sedative – I hope the Sparta Pride don’t accidentally ingest it because they’ve been dozy enough recently.

I guess every job has it’s own challenges – as this young Sparta Male illustrates – seems to have been a long night at the office for him!

A dozy Sparta male.

Anyway, war has been declared on the poppy and we’ll keep chopping it out when and where we can with a flower lovers twinge of regret and as a great excuse for a cold beer on a hot spring afternoon.

Written by: Tom Imrie 

About the Author

Tom Imrie

Field Guide

Tom is the voice of wisdom, reason and logic on the Londolozi Ranging Team, as well as all the other facets that go hand-in-hand with being an intellectual far beyond the realm of most mere mortals. There are very few subjects under the ...

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on The Mexican Poppy – An Unwanted Beauty

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marinda drake

It is so difficult to get rid of invasive species. It seems to me as if plants with yellow flowers are the most invasive. Good luck. Hope you win this war.

Kate Collins

Very interesting Tom. Best to get rid of those and a few beers definitely helps motivate the cause. 🙂


Oh Tom that was wonderful! You made my Saturday evening with the goat anecdotes. Thank you & have a lovely Sunday digging out weeds – good for the figure I believe!!!! 🙂

Jill Grady

Really interesting blog Tom! It’s amazing how quickly invasive plants can take over an entire area, and are so difficult to get rid of. I love the picture of the Sparta male…wow, really looks like he had a rough day! 🙂

Brian C

You made me laugh out loud with “rent a goat” and how the leopards might respond. What a shame that such a pretty flower is attached to a spiny, invasive, toxic plant!

Jan Baldwin

A great lesson to be learned, not just at Londolozi, but here at home, now that we are back in Seattle and maintaining our home. Invasive plants are a real concern here as well, and like you have discovered, many of them have ways of fighting back when attempts are made to remove them. Good luck in your efforts. A cold beer might take away some of the pain…

I love the lounging lion. I recall one such beast when we were with you on one of our morning game drives. They do know how to be laid back.

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