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Return of Attila the Hop and other Horror Stories


Attila the Hop - I thought I had managed to kill this plant last year, but here it is again, devouring everything in its path

It's much too nice a day to be entirely serious - we are having a bit of summer today, so I'm starting to declutter the yard. Attila the hop plant, which I thought I had removed last year, is back with a vengeance and has almost reached the back door. It has already choked out the palm – like thing which is supposed to be there and the sad remains of the lemon tree aren’t far behind. I can't understand why the plants I have bought, nurtured and actually wanted have all expired.



To prove my point, here is what's left of the beautiful pot of dill I got for Christmas

Son and I were having a bit of a laugh about it and wondered what would happen if Attila the Hop managed to get together with Godzilla the Spider plant. I came by the Spider plant as a tiny sliver, an accidental hitchhiker with some perpetual lettuce. The lettuces have all died of course, but I’d poked the odd seedling into a pot and now look what happened. It's tendrils stretch down to the kitchen and there are lots of mini Godzillas as well.


Godzilla the Spider Plant


 Move Over “Day of the Triffids”

We jokingly made up a little horror story about it - about an unassuming software engineer who does a bit of plant grafting in his spare time. He accidentally develops a very vigorous cross between these and a pitcher plant, which immediately devours him and then escapes and takes over the neighbourhood. We haven’t quite worked out the ending yet. What quirky thing might bring its rampage to an end? Fire? Chemical? Heavy Metal Music? Soapy Water? Or maybe a plant or bug that’s even hungrier, until they both expire?

Someone has beaten us to it of course. If you want to see a horror movie about Invasive Plants try the 1962 Sci Fi "Day of the Triffids." From memory they were averse to fire, but I may have to watch it again. The “Little Shop of Horrors” (preview below) is another about a blood sucking plant. It was originally made in the 1960s and remade in 1986. 


Rogue Plants - Real life Horror Stories

You can see how this hop plant could be a hazard if it escaped into the bush. We already have hundreds of weeds and introduced plants taking over our bushland, beaches and pastures, choking out native species, preventing access and affecting waterways. It should be noted that the same plants are usually harmless in their country of origin or at least easier to constrain, but here without natural predators, they can become a serious problem. Take Pampas Grass for example. In its native South America, it produces a sterile seed and stays where it’s put. Not here though. On introduction to Australia it started producing fertile seeds which enabled it to spread far and wide. Gorse, Willow, Broom, Fuchsias and Heather may have been pretty at home, but here they crowd out native plants and take over. Some like Foxgloves are in fact poisonous to cattle or people. Blackberries, Fennel and Banana Passionfruit while eminently edible, have also become a pest in our acidic soils. Other newer entrants include Hawthorn, Mombretia, Gazania, Periwinkle and Cumbungi. The latter shocks me a bit because I understood that it was a form of Bush Tucker i.e. Aboriginal food.

Oh dear, I see two new ones on the list which I have in my garden – the Arum Lily and the Agapanthus. It grieves me because they are among the few survivors. I’ve already pulled out all the forget -me -nots and ivy, much as I love them. True horror is having a garden full of invasive species. The unfortunate thing is, you can still buy most of these in nurseries.  Luckily I didn’t plant Pride of Madeira, that magnificent blue spike so loved by bees or Kiss – me – Quick (Red Valerian), though I love the sight of it tumbling down the rocky slopes of the Southern Outlet. I wonder if they were planted to stabilise the soil and prevent rockfalls? 

Agapanthus -Tough, pretty to look at and needing little water, making it seemingly  ideal for nature strips, the very qualities which now bring it into disrepute


Too bad. I have often admired Pride of Madiera - Echium candicans  

Red and Pink Valerian -Centranthus ruber. You see a lot of this around Hobart, especially on old rockwalls. Sad to see this one on the list too

The Prickly Pear Story

One of the few things I remember from early High School was a radio play about the introduction of prickly pear. Harmless in its native US it was brought into Australia by the First Fleet so that red dye could be made from the cochineal beetles which lived on it. By 1920 it had exploded throughout Australia’s arid regions and millions of acres were rendered useless for agriculture.  It was only after the introduction of the cactus beetle from its home range that farmers were able to control it, though that solution can also be fraught with hazards.  Witness what happened with the cane toads.


In Outback Australia you might still find the odd bit of Prickly Pear. These shacks are in Gwalia in Western Australia and were left after the mighty Sons of Gwalia Mine closed 
Given the nature of the surrounding countryside, you could see how they might be attractive to our pioneers

Cane toads were introduced in 1935, to control cane beetles in in sugar plantations. Toxic to humans and most other species, they have no natural predators in this country. Big and bloated, they have now spread from Queensland to the Northern part of Western Australia. They had reached Darwin when I was there in about 1985, so who knows where they'll end up. True horror was stepping into a toilet cubicle along the beaches in Queensland at night and watching the whole floor move as torchlight hit a sea of toads. 

What to do if you have any of these weeds on your property?

If it's a serious infestation, contact your local council, your state Department of Primary Industry, Water and the Environment or its equivalent or see more at Weeds Australia. For a small patch or an individual plant, you can generally hand pull, dig out or in the case of woody plants, cut close to the ground and paint with herbicide, but make sure you follow all safety precautions - gloves, mask and eye protection, long sleeves and boots and don't do it near waterways.

If you are pulling plants, don't do it when they are in flower or seed and dispose of properly. Don't put them in the green waste (ask your council) and try to replace with native plants or ground cover, to stop them coming back.


Don't bring anything in, deliberately or accidentally*- not on your gear either, and always follow the boot -washing instructions when you enter a National Park. 

*New Zealand is very meticulous about this. It Xrays everything when you arrive at customs.  Although my boots were clean on the outside, they detected a grass seed on the inside of one of them, so you can't be too careful.


Footnote: Just mentioned to oldest son that Gazanias were now on the list, because I helped him plant some years ago at another place. Yes, he said, I remember the label. It said," Plant in full sun and treat with absolute disdain. Gazanias will survive under all weather and water conditions." 

PS. Have just found out that there's not one but two newer versions of  "Day of the Triffids"Click here for 2009 one.