Wednesday, May 30, 2007

African Boxthorn--Friend or Foe?

Let me say right at the start, I'm not going in to bat for the noxious, invasive weed, African Boxthorn (Lycium ferocissimum). Anyone who's had the misfortune to get caught by their long sharp spines, wouldn't quickly want to repeat the performance. It's fairly widespread around the South here, mostly on the more marginal, coastal soils. I believe it was originally imported into Tasmania in the mid 1800s primarily as a hedging plant. I suspect that it was used in place of fences, something it would have excelled at.
I spent a while at Sorell recently, mainly at the Waterview Sanctua
ry and adjoining areas. Around here there are still significant areas of the boxthorn, although largely cleared from the reserve. At present the boxthorn is in flower, but also has ripening fruit, as the shot at top shows. I noted there was a continuous flow of honeyeaters through the area, mainly Crescent and New Holland, but a few Eastern Spinebills, attracted to the flowers on the boxthorns. Additionally, small groups of Superb Fairy-wrens, used them as cover as they foraged across the area. I doubt that many of the honeyeaters would be present if it wasn't for the boxthorn. Additionally, they provide ready cover from predators.
Probably the major users of boxthorns here are those other imports,
House Sparrows and Blackbirds, the latter probably the main culprit in disseminating the seeds. Both certainly use them for nesting in. I recall, that about 30 years or so ago, in the Winter months, the Little Grassbirds could regularly be found in the long hedge of boxthorns by the chicken factory fence, alas, no more.
I've noted elsewhere, that the House Sparrows use them for what I call their 'castles'. Close to where I live in Bellerive the main predator of the House Sparrow is the Grey Butcherbird. If the sparrows are being harried by them, they take cover in these very effective refuges.
So while I'm certainly not advocating keeping or planting boxthorns, there can at times be an upside to them! I should hasten to add that I don't include their use as 'castles' for the sparrows as an upside.
[Images are of New Holland Honeyeater and Superb Fairy-wren, both photographed on boxthorn, at Sorell.]

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