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.
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.
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.
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