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Top 5 indigenous plants that tortoises eat

We were recently asked to donate plants to Freeme for their new tortoise enclosure and I had fun researching what tortoises eat.

Barleria obtusa

(Bush Violet)

This evergreen shrub is frost resistant, water wise and fast growing in the sun, shade or semi-shade. The pale mauve trumpet shaped flowers occur in summer and autumn. They attract birds, the insect eaters as well as butterflies as it is the larval host plant for the Yellow, Brown and Blue Pansy butterfly. It is great for containers and it’s a low maintenance plant, other than an annual pruning at the end of winter. It is ideal for small gardens, but needs to be kept as a bush as I’ve seen ours scampering up the trees when left to their own devises!

Chlorophytum comosum vittatum

(Variegated Hen And Chickens)

The variegated, grass-like, leaves brighten up a shady area. These plants will survive some drought, but only really look attractive if watered regularly. They have fleshy, tuberous roots about 5 to 10 cm long. When in flower, the plant produces long, thin stems which carry white flowers, as well as plantlets at the tip of the flower stem. It flowers all year round. A single plant with a few of these stems will soon become a mother plant surrounded by a flock of "babies" - hence the name 'hen and chickens'. Frost will kill the leaves, but mild frost will not damage the roots. The leaves are eaten as spinach.It's an ideal plant for containers and hanging baskets. It is also used in Auruvedic medicine and is magical as the plant is placed in the room of an expectant mother as protection and the roots are soaked in water which is then taken daily to ensure the birth of a healthy child. This water is also given to the new born child as a purgative. The name is derived from the Greek 'chloros' meaning yellow green and 'phyton' meaning plant, referring to the green leaves and greenish flowers. Comosum means tufted.

Hibiscus penduncularis

(Pink Hibiscus)

Evergreen, water wise shrub that grows about 1m x 1m. It thrives in semi-shade and produces lovely pink, bell shaped flowers in Summer. It is an ideal plant for a container on a shady patio. It will grow in the sun but will then require more water. It also attracts birds and the Foxy Charaxes, Foxt Emperor and Star Sandman butterflies. Leaf and stalk infusions are used for urinary complaints. The name is derived from the Greek hibiskos the name for a 'marsh-mallow' and ibis= a stork that fed on some mallow species.

Lampranthus sp

(Vygies)

A valuable addition to any garden as their iridescent flowers are seen in spring and summer. Their striking colours are a highlight after the drab winter garden when only the Aloes are in flower. They are all drought resistant and creep along the ground creating a carpet of striking colour. They attract butterflies and are useful in rockeries, along a path or in a hanging basket. They are frost resistant and fast growing. The leaves vary from dull ,dusty green to a bright, light green. The name is derived from the Greek lampros = bright, shining; anthos = flower; referring to the light reflecting off the glossy petals.

Portulacaria afra

(Elephant's Foot, Spekboom)

The porkbush is an attractive, evergreen succulent shrub or small tree that can reach 2 - 5 m in height, although usually around 1.5 - 2 m in a garden situation. It has small round succulent leaves and red stems. Small star-shaped light pink to deep red flowers are borne en masse from late winter to spring although flowering in cultivation is often erratic. They are a rich source of nectar for many insects, which in-turn attracts insectivorous birds and is used as nesting sites. Bees use the nectar to make honey. It also attracts butterflies. They thrive in warm situations on rocky slopes, in bushveld and dry river valleys. This bushy tree makes a lovely screen or hedge. The leaves of the porkbush can be eaten and have a sour or tart flavour. It is heavily browsed by game and domestic stock and highly favoured by tortoises. The porkbush is useful for preventing soil erosion. Traditional uses also include the increasing of breast milk for lactating mothers. The leaves are used to quench thirst, and sucking a leaf is used to treat exhaustion, dehydration and heat stroke. There are many medicinal uses as crushed leaves can be rubbed on blisters and corns on the feet to provide relief. The leaves are chewed as a treatment for a sore throat and mouth infections while the astringent juice is used for soothing skin conditions such as pimples, rashes and insect stings. The juice is also used as an antiseptic and as a treatment for sunburn. The leaves are excellent fodder for most domestic animals and game such as grey duiker, klipspringer, impala, bushbuck, nyala, kudu and elephant. A sprig is placed on top of Tomato Bredie as it is cooking and this imparts an elusive and tangy taste.

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