This is a picture of some ornamental bushes in the front of our former house in Lumakanda. Note the yellow-greenish vines sticking out from the bushes. This is a parasitic plant. About a year ago this plant had infected the ornamental bushes which were then over three feet tall. In order to eradicate the vines, we had to cut down and burn the bushes. As you can see, this was not effective as the vine has re-established itself.

A year ago when I first saw the vine at our old house, it was the first time that I noticed it in Lumakanda. Then I began to see it in many places. I couldn’t believe that I had lived in Lumakanda for more than a decade and didn’t notice the vine. Then I read an article in the paper that this vine has just invaded western Kenyan in the last few years. So I guess I don’t need new glasses.

This weed is known as field dodder with the scientific name of Cuscuta japonica. It has  many names include love vine, knot weed, strangle weed, strangle vine, angel’s hair, gold-thread, devil’s ringlet, hell-bind, hair weed, devil’s hair, hail weed and witches’ shoelaces. Since I don’t know what people call this in English or even Swahili here in Lumakanda, I have chosen to use my favorite name, “strangle weed.”

Here is a picture of how strangle vine covers the plant where it sucks its sap as it has no chlorophyll itself. As can be seen from its scientific name, it originated in Japan. No one knows how it was introduced into Kenya and surrounding countries. It spreads rapidly when it produces flowers and the seeds are easily spread by wind and can last ten years without gemmating. Also if children pick the vines, which even my children did when I didn’t understand the nature of the plant, it can be spread to a new host.

Here is the vine grasping out to strangle another branch of the bush.

As the vine grows and saps the host bush or tree, it can strangle the host until it dies as can be seen as happening in this picture, taken near our house. In addition to the ornamental bushes, strangle weed attacks many plants including tea bushes, coffee trees, mango, citrus fruits, and, alarmingly enough, may perhaps spread to new host plants.

 

This is a picture of our ornamental bushes in our current house in Lumakanda. Already strangle weed has infected one of the bushes. We immediately cut off the effected branches and burned them. But with the prevalence and rapid spread of the vine, I am not sure that we will be able to keep it from destroying our plants. We also have mango and citrus trees where it could spread to. Behind the bushes is a row of grevillea trees which grow very fast and are used for firewood and for lumber if allowed to grow for twenty or more years.

While I am discussing parasitic plants, here is a picture of another one, one of the hundreds of kinds of mistletoe. This is a grevillea tree near our house. As you can see it has killed the top half of the tree as it is attached about half way up the tree. The bottom half of the tree is still growing normally. If you look closely you can see that the leaves on the top half is different than the leaves below of the grevillea tree. We have a large avocado tree in our yard where about a year ago we cut off about twenty branches with this parasite. It is very common as I see it often in my walks around town. It is quite noticeable at the right time of year when the red flowers are in bloom. 

I don’t like parasites.

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David Zarembka

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