Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cape honeysuckle sucks!

Cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) is an evergreen climbing shrub from South Africa that is very quick to establish, turning walls and fences into luxuriant bowers of green. Its orange flowers are a hummingbird magnet and add a tropical splash of color to any landscape. It’s available at any box store in our area, often for less than $5 for a gallon-sized plant.

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Cape honeysuckle at a Best Western in Palm Desert, CA, February 2011

Who can resist such a magnificent plant and such a great bargain? We certainly couldn’t. Attracted by its growth potential and its stunning flowers, we planted one against the street-side fence in our backyard. That was 12 years ago. And we’ve been trying to kill it ever since.

While it is a profuse bloomer with beautiful flowers, and it does establish itself quickly, it simply knows no bounds. It climbs high into trees and and anything else nearby, intertwining itself inextricably with whatever it finds. If that weren’t enough, it produces enormous numbers of underground runners that pop up far away from the main plant—sometimes 6, 8 or even 10 feet (!) away. Running bamboo has nothing on this plant!

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A whole slew of suckers. Time to get out my hori hori!

We wisened up to its extreme vigor within a year and decided to take it out. I cut off all the above-ground growth and dug up what I thought was the entire root ball, thinking that would be the end of it. Far from it. Suckers continued to pop up here, and there, and over there. Depending on where they came up, I dug them up with a spade, pried them out with a weeding knife or simply tore them off when I was too frustrated to do anything else. I repeated these measures year in, year out—sometimes more diligently, sometimes less so. I even tried Roundup, knowing that it probably wouldn’t work considering how many suckers there are. (I was right.)

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Sucker coming up under the hose cart

Fast forward to the present. It’s now been 12 years since I planted this cape honeysuckle. And it’s still here. It comes up in our woodland garden, amid the hostas and farfugiums and ferns. It pops up in the middle of the lawn, more than 20 ft. from where it was originally planted. A time or two it has even grown out of cracks in the concrete slab of our house.

I don’t have a clue how to kill it. I can’t dig up the entire area because it’s densely planted. I can’t spray Roundup on every sucker because often they come up right next to desirable plants. I suppose a heavy freeze would kill it since it’s only hardy to zone 9, but it would also kill many of our other plants.

So the only thing I can do is to continue digging and prying out the suckers whenever and wherever I spot them, knowing full well that even the smallest piece of root that remains in the soil will eventually turn into another sucker.

Hard-earned lesson: Always do research on a plant’s invasive potential before you put it in the ground.

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The suckers look so cute and innocent, don’t they?

P.S. Needless to say I would love to hear from anybody who has successfully eradicated this (ob)noxious weed, which, by the way, is not related to “regular” honeysuckle (genus Lonicera).

P.P.S. Tecomaria capensis is listed in the Global Invasive Species Database of the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). I guess I’m not alone in my plight.

5 comments:

  1. What a nightmare! Did you start with a 1 gal. plant, how large did it get in 1 year, and did it flower the first year? I'm looking for new vines to try out.

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  2. Alan, yes, it was a 1 gallon plant. It probably was blooming when we bought it--nursery plants often do. We had attached some chicken wire fencing to our wood fence to give it something to climb on. It did, but it also sent out runners every which way.

    In your climate, it should be OK to plant this as an annual, or even better, put it in a pot. From what I read, it's very easy to take cuttings so you'll always have a fresh supply of divisions. It *is* a very attractive plant, even when not in bloom, except that it's simply too rambunctious for our yard.

    Heck, if you're interested, I'll pot up a sucker for you. I just got rid of the existing ones yesterday but there'll be new ones in a matter of weeks.

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  3. It comes from the sub-tropical area around the Addo Elephant Park. Like Plumbago it sprawls up nearby trees. And it grows so vigorously because it is designed to survive a herd of elephants. Maybe not an ideal plant for a small garden ;>) Altho I love ours! Most of our invasives come from Australia - Port Jackson wattle ...

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  4. Diana, loved your comment about cape honeysuckle being designed to withstand elephant herds. I'm convinced it does that very well. I do love the way it looks--leaves and flowers--but I should have read up about it before I planted it. I've seen it scrambling up shade structures in shopping centers--perfect use for it because it's confined to one area.

    Just visited your blog. Wow, you're in South Africa! I'll spend a lot more time on your blog in the weeks to come since I love South African plants and want to know more about gardening in your part of the world.

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  5. The only time I have had this plant under control (Bibra Lake Western Australia) is when I fenced an area of it off ( along one fence line of my 1/4 acre block) to house some pet rabbits; they ate all the new shots and eradicated it from their large pen area. So I guess I used one introduced pest to control another.

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