Invasive Alien Plant or Symbol of Home?


They tower magestically above the streets of Pretoria. Their branches seem to take hands high above the streets to form a canopy of purple flowers for the residents to pass through each day. Overnight the  flowers fall and become a carpet on the road surface making a distinct popping sound when the first cars drive by.

Their beauty have been described by poets in lyrical terms, their flowers are associated with success in exams by students of the university of Pretoria, their colour is copied by artists, and photographers flock to capture the purple haze which covers the city each year during the month of October.

Although jacarandas are not an indigenous plant to South Africa, they have long been associated with the city of Pretoria. The first jacarandas were reportedly planted in 1888 on the grounds of a school in Pretoria.Seeds were imported by James Clarke who then planted the seedlings along the streets in Pretoria. Jacarandas became so popular and widely planted in Pretoria that it became known as the jacaranda city. Today it is reported that about 55 000 jacaranda trees grow in Pretoria.

These trees line the city sidewalks and turn the urban landscape into a purple fairy tale each year during the month of October.

The Jacaranda mimosifolia is native to north-eastern Argentina, where it thrives in the hot humid climate. As of 2001 the tree has been declared a Category Three invasive alien plant, which means, in terms of the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act, No. 43 of 1983, that it can be kept only on certain strict conditions in South Africa

The trees in Pretoria were given a special dispensation in terms of which the City was allowed to keep all the trees and replace those that, for whatever reason, were destroyed or died. The reason for this was that the trees are part of the character of the City and the City would thus lose something unique if they were all eradicated.

To me jacarandas will always be associated with home and each year I eagerly await that magical moment when the purple blooms appear almost overnight.

How can I ever see them as ” Alien Invasive Plants”?

Therefore I agree with these words which Nelson Mandela spoke during his first inauguration as President of South Africa:

To my compatriots, I have no hesitation in saying that each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld. – Nelson Mandela

Footprints in The Garden

The success of a garden depends on the number of footprints left in the garden by the gardener.

These words come from a wise gardener who taught me the basic principles of successful gardening.

A week ago two friends and I set out on a roadtrip to Haenertsburg in Limpopo with the specific goal of viewing the Cheerio Gardens which is well known for its blooming azaleas and Japanese cherry blossoms.

On arriving at the gardens we were greeted by a long winding driveway flanked by  a hedge of colourful blooming azaleas. The sight of the driveway took our breaths away and sparked our excitement and anticipation.

The Cheerio gardens have an interesting history, dating back to World War 2 when a young woman called Box ( Sheila Thompson) was sent to Cape Town to serve in the SA signal corps. She fell in love with the indigenous South African bulbs and flowers and brought some home to Heanertsburg to start her own nursery and garden.  When the bulbs were destroyed by bushpigs, mole rats and porcupines, she decided to change direction. She built a wild and beautiful garden, nursing the worn out soil back to fertility organically and planting  trees and plants suited to the climate. She didn’ t believe in interfering with nature and up till today the gardens are never watered, no insecticides used and no fertilisation given to the plants and trees.

Box soon realised that the misty climate in Haenertsburg is ideal for northern hemisphere flowering trees and started to source and  plant them. She wrote many articles on the indigenous flowering plants of South Africa. When one of her articles was read by the personal physician of the Japanese Emperor, she sent him seeds of indigenous blue flowering plants.  He in turn sent her the seeds of the flowering Japanese cherry and some azalea seeds.

Today the gardens lie stretched out over 20 acres of hilly terrain. The azaleas grow on the slopes bordering tranquil trout dams and are interspersed by white and pink Japanese cherries, frothy crab apples, dogwoods, rare camellias and magnolias and rhododendrons. Later maples, liquidambars and oaks were introduced to add to the magic and the colourful display in autumn.

The visitor is free to wander the many pathways winding through the profusely growing plants and trees. Around every corner new delights wait to be discovered. A Japanese cherry dressed like a bride stand  alongside old trees. Fallen leaves covering  a pathway which beckons to be explored. Trout dams lying tranquilly in the sun  reflecting the intense colours of the azaleas. Shady corners to rest weary feet.  Many butterflies and other insects as well as birds thrive in this natural environment.

We spent many hours wandering along the pathways, following the footprints of the gardener who created this  wonderland.

Information and history from