29 August 2012

Those pesky Agapanthus roots

When we first cleared space for our garden at St. Annes over seven years ago, our hardest job was ridding the soil of the myriad Agaphantus plants and their rhizomes and roots. To this day, our garden retains several Agapanthus. They are now relatively contained in certain areas for landscaping effect, but we continue to have trouble with their greedy roots under the ground.

Above you'll see a photo of what should be a blueberry root ball. The bush was planted 2 feet away from a stand of our Agapanthus. A couple years later the blueberry began to show failure to thrive, so we dug it up and lo and behold, we could immediately see why. Those bright white worm-like roots you see throughout are Agapanthus roots. They wind their way into the neighboring plants root balls and begin to take over their food source. I have even found a plant root that had a hole born through it by an Agapanthus root.

Before we planted the blueberry in a new location, we took several minutes to comb out all the agapanthus roots. I have read that one only need fear the larger brown  rhizome of the Agapanthus in terms of reproducing, but I didn't want to take any chances.

Agapanthus are known as African Lillies. We know them as poisonous (all parts of the plant can induce vomiting if ingested, or rashes if the sap is rubbed on skin). However, I found this interesting description of how the plant parts can be used on a Southern Africa plant website: www.plantzafrica.com

Uses & cultural aspects 
Agapanthus is considered to be both a magical and a medicinal plant, and the plant of fertility and pregnancy. Xhosa women use the roots to make antenatal medicine, and they make a necklace using the roots that they wear as a charm to bring healthy, strong babies. The Zulu use agapanthus to treat heart disease, paralysis, coughs, colds, chest pains and tightness. It is also used with other plants in various medicines taken during pregnancy to ensure healthy children, or to augment or induce labour. It is also used as a love charm and by people afraid of thunderstorms, and to ward off thunder. Margaret Roberts (1990) advises hikers to put leaves in their shoes to soothe the feet, and to wrap weary feet in the leaves for half an hour. The long, strap-like leaves also make an excellent bandage to hold a dressing or poultice in place, and winding leaves around the wrists are said to help bring a fever down. Agapanthus contains several saponins and sapogenins that generally have anti-inflammatory (reduce swelling and inflammation), anti-oedema (oedema = swelling due to accumulation of fluid), antitussive (relieve or suppress coughing) and immunoregulatory (have influence on the immune system) properties. Although the precise activity of agapanthus compounds is not known, preliminary tests have shown uterotonic activity (increases the tone of uterine muscles). Agapanthus is suspected of causing haemolytic poisoning in humans, and the sap causes severe ulceration of the mouth.

Over the years the children have made attractive braided necklaces and bracelets from the roots.