Growing some plants could land you in prison

Many home owners may be blissfully unaware that they are doing something illegal.  We’re referring to the growing of invasive alien plants (IAPs), in particular Category 1 IAPs, which are strictly forbidden to be grown.

According to Life is a Garden™, the ten worst ones include lantana, cat’s claw, bugweed, pampas grass, water lettuce, oleander, Indian shot (canna), ginger lily, fountain grass and Spanish broom – all quite commonly grown in South African gardens.

IAPs are a problem because they are highly adaptable, vigorous growers that easily invade a wide range of ecological niches.

They have taken over 10% of the country (well over 10 million hectares of land, an area the size of KwaZulu-Natal) and use 7% of our water resources in South Africa (roughly the same amount needed by humans to survive in this country. They are rapidly replacing indigenous and endemic vegetation, resulting in a loss of insect species that are dependent on these plants and the ripple-effect loss of the birds, reptiles and mammals that feed on those insects; invade land better used for crops and livestock grazing; and are often toxic to man or animals.

Criminal offence

According to Alien and Invasive Species Regulations, which came into effect in 2014, non-adherence to the Regulations by a land owner or a seller of land can result in a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to R5 million (R10 million in case of a second offense) and / or a period of imprisonment of up to 10 years.

Before you break out into a cold sweat, the chances that you would be caught and fined are quite remote – although that doesn’t mean you should ignore the very real need to remove them from your garden.

According to Alistair Young, an environmental attorney at Warburton Attorneys, responsibility for enforcing the regulations lie with the Department of Environmental Affairs and the applicable provincial environmental department.  “However, there is little to no proactive inspection or enforcement of the IAP regulations when it comes to IAPs in private gardens and estates,” he says.

“Our experience shows that the competent authorities are reactive in nature and generally only respond to complaints by neighbouring homeowners / landowners, which complaints are often submitted to the competent authority due to a deterioration in relations between neighbours / landowners.”  (Best quickly remove any offending plants from your garden if you’re embroiled in a spat with a vindictive neighbour!)

Trustees and HOA directors’ responsibilities

So, what are the responsibilities of sectional title trustees and HOA directors when it comes to control of IAPs?  Says Young:  “Trustees and HOA directors should ensure that the estate rules include a provision prohibiting the planting of IAPs in private gardens, however, a trustee would not be responsible for the failure of a homeowner to adhere to such rule. Essentially the person in control of the IAP, the homeowner, would be the responsible person.

“However, a trustee could be found responsible if IAPs are planted in common areas of the estate as it is my understanding that it is the trustees who are ultimately responsible for such areas and who exercise control and management over such areas.”

Need for greater awareness

Young urges the need for greater awareness among home-owners, including the widespread publication of the common names of the listed IAPs, according to Young, who suggests the inclusion of a list in estate newsletters as well as a prohibition the estate rules preventing the planting of any IAPs in estate private gardens as well as common areas.

“Further awareness should also be created regarding the appropriate method to remove and destroy IAPs, as certain removal and destruction activities with IAPS could actually result in the further unintended spread of the IAP,” he concludes.

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