Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Deadly Dodder

It seems as if my subject matter is heading towards the dark side lately - Poisonous Cycads, and now Creepy Dodder. I promise, its purely circumstantial and no substantive change in direction…

After not having seen any Dodder (Cuscuta sp.) for about 10 years, I've spotted 2 infestations in the last week in gardens that I've visited. If you don't know of Dodder's reputation, then its about time someone passed on its diabolical legend - its really the plant equivalent of a super-villain.
Cuscuta (Dodder)
Dodder is one of the only plants that don't have chlorophyll, and therefore cannot make food from sunlight. You would think this would put it at a disadvantage, but actually, this is where the story takes a bizarre twist into the horror-genre of the plant kingdom.

Dodder is a parasitic plant which feeds on its host plant by entwining its leaves and stem, and then producing haustoria - suckers which grow into the host and then literally suck the life from its limbs. If this isn't scary enough, it also has the ability to grow from even the tiniest fragment towards its next unwitting victim. It doesn't even need to have the apparent crutch of a root system to hold it back.

It appears to have the ability to 'smell' its next victim and grow towards it - with plants surviving about 5-10 days without a host. It also spreads by seed - tiny little pea-sized seeds which germinate very easily.

All these aspects of its incredible design is also what makes it so tough to get rid of. Here are a few simple steps to rid yourself of Dodder:
  1. Try to catch it early, the more there is of it, the harder it is to remove.
  2. Catch it before it seeds itself - as the seeds can lie dormant for quite a while before sprouting.
  3. It is best to place a piece of plastic as close as possible to where you are working to catch all the pieces of the plant that might fall onto the ground.
  4. Cut back the host plant well below where the dodder attaches itself, because the plant can regrow from its Haustoria.
  5. Ensure that you try to get rid of as much as possible without dropping any pieces.
  6. Burn all the traces of the plant, and don't try to make compost from it!
  7. Follow up - keep looking for traces of it (Go back to Step #1)

Sunday, 6 November 2011

One Man's Cycad Is Another Man's Poison

Are Cycads poisonous?

I was recently asked this question, and realized that it's something not too many people know about. The plain answer is yes, Cycads are poisonous, but as with most things plant related, when you dig below the surface you'll find some interesting things.

Most parts of Cycads contain toxins that can, when eaten in large enough doses, cause sickness and even death. But the ironic thing is that the Afrikaans name for a Cycad is a broodboom (lit. Bread Tree). This comes from the fact that in South Africa and in many cultures around the world, the seeds of Cycads have been used to make flour.

In South Africa, legend has it that a group of Boer soldiers were hiding out in the hills - after a while they got hungry and decided to try cooking and eating the seeds - for the next few days they were laid out in pain, before recovering sufficiently to keep going.

In Australia, an aboriginal tribe would prepare the seeds by putting them in water to leach out the toxin, this would take about four days. The seeds were considered safe to eat once fish had started to nibble on it. At which point, the seeds were then ground down into flour and made into bread. (don't try this at home - and if you do, don't invite me)

But don't go out and uproot your Cycads in a hurry. If you consider how many gardens have Cycads growing in them, and yet cases of poisoning are extremely rare.

Just as a side note - Cycads are a rather large group of plants. In South Africa, the Encephalartos (usually spiny) and Stangeria (stemless) are indigenous, while the Cycas - commonly known as Sago Palm (softer leaves with relatively small spines at the base) is not. Indigenous Cycads are a protected plant in South Africa. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop
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