Words: Andrea Abbott
Pictures: Andrea Abbott & Anno Torr
You don’t need to be a conservation professional to do your bit for Nature: even the smallest garden can play a role in providing habitat. BotSoc KZN Coastal Branch committee member and editor of online magazine, The Indigenous Gardener, Anno Torr says, “Conserving biodiversity is about more than adding a few extra plants to the garden; it must be functional to be ecologically meaningful. Gardens must support a larger web of life than is found in most modern gardens, must connect built-up cities with remaining natural patches, and be allowed to behave as an ecosystem would. Gardeners can begin this process by planting locally correct species that attract insects – as pollinators and an important food source – and birds to pollinate and to disperse seeds.
Here are ten plants that are more than worth their weight in bark.
- Acacia has undergone a change in Genus name to Vachellia and Senegalia depending on the species. No matter the name though, it’s a group that packs a habitat punch. You can’t go wrong with the widely occurring Vachellia karroo or Sweet Thorn. Abuzz with countless insects when in flower, it’s a bounteous pantry for bees, the larva of at least 13 butterfly species, something like 90 moth species, and a host of insectivorous birds.
- Erythrina. A picture in flower, all four species – caffra, humeana, latissma and lysistemon – attract insects and nectar-feeding birds especially sunbirds , while Brown-headed and Cape parrots feat on the seed pods of E. lysistemon.
- Antidesma venosum: The Tassel-berry grows in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga. A semi-deciduous tree, it produces a profusion of fruit tassels that humans as well as monkeys and frutivorous birds enjoy. Male and female flowers are produced on separate trees so plant three to be on the safe side.
- Grewia occidentalis: Of the 14 or so Grewia species, the dainty-flowered occidentalis is perhaps the most widespread. Grewias are a favoured food plant of Skipper butterflies, and the fruit is relished by monkeys, birds and people.
- Halleria lucida. The nectar-filled flowers of the Tree-fuschia are a life saver for birds and bees and other sweet-toothed insects during the bleak winter months. Occurring in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West, Western Cape it’s a tree no garden should lack.
- Trema orientalis: The rambling Pigeonwood is a wildlife pantry of note. The almost insignificant flowers are pollinated by bees and the bunches of small black fruit are top of the pops with turacos, Rameron pigeons, barbets, canaries, tinkerbirds, white-eyes, hornbills, starlings and others. Bats are also partial to the fruit, and the leaves are the host plant for Charaxes butterflies.
- Kiggelaria africana: You’ll find the Wild-peach in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West, Western Cape. Look closely and you’ll also find the caterpillars of the Garden Acraea munching on the leaves, and cuckoos feasting on those caterpillars. Fruitivores devour the woody capsule fruits.
- Leonotis leonurus. Nectar-hooked sunbirds, butterflies and bees queue to get their fix from the Wild Dagga flowers. You might even want to try the nectar yourself. Insectivorous birds also hover at these dens-of-plenty to pick off unsuspecting insects.
- Aloes. When winter kicks in and food sources become scarce, aloes offer up their nectar-rich flowers. The bright inflorescences liven up the drab winter landscape and provide nectar to jewel-coloured sunbirds whose perfectly-engineered curved beaks probe those flowers for a meal. Insects also take their fair share. Other succulents that feed the masses include Cotyledon orbiculata.
10: Grasses. Let’s not forget the seedeaters. Swathes of grasses make a gorgeous garden feature especially when canaries, mannekins, finches, waxbills, and others ride those stalks to gather seeds. The grass family is the 5th largest plant family on Earth and in South Africa, 329 species are endemic. Garden favourites include the red grasses – Themeda triandra and Melinis nerviglumis, Eragrostis capensis aka Heart-seed Love Grass, and the robust Setaria megaphylla or Broad-leaved Bristle Grass.
Picture Captions if needed:
Bringing Back the Birds & Bees 1: Vachellia karroo or Sweet Thorn
Bringing Back the Birds & Bees 2: Erythrina lysistemon and female sunbird
Bringing Back the Birds & Bees 3: Antidesma venosum fruit
Bringing Back the Birds & Bees 4: Grewia occidentalis fruit
Bringing Back the Birds & Bees 5: Halleria lucida
Bringing Back the Birds & Bees 6: Green Wood-Hoopoe looking for insects on a Trema orientalis branch
Bringing Back the Birds & Bees 7: Kiggelaria Africana fruit capsule with insect on top
Bringing Back the Birds & Bees 8: Leonotis leonurus
Bringing Back the Birds & Bees 9: Collared Sunbird feeding on an aloe
Bringing Back the Birds & Bees 9a. Bee on Cotyledon orbiculata
Bringing Back the Birds & Bees 10. Melinis nerviglumis