Johannesburg - With A dwindling habitat, the number of chameleons in Gauteng has plummeted over the past century. Environmentalists are now hoping to turn the tide and encourage gardeners to create habitats which favour the chameleon’s camouflage and ambush lifestyle.
The most important fact about chameleons is they need a fairly large area in which to roam. It is for this reason that gardeners are being encouraged to link up chameleon-friendly gardens in a single neighbourhood. It is hoped that these gardens will merge to create corridors of chameleon habitat which will make it possible for populations of chameleon to flourish.
There are about 200 species of chameleon with 19 recognised species in South Africa. The species most likely to be seen in Joburg garden is the flapneck chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis).
In the latest issue of Veld & Flora magazine (March), Alice Notten offers these tips for developing a chameleon-friendly garden:
l Reduce your lawn. To a chameleon, a large lawn is a giant desert. It contains no food, has no perches and no protective cover.
l Thin out your trees. A garden filled with trees with low-hanging branches is a nightmare for chameleons. The branches of trees (pines and oaks in particular) are too thick for the chameleons to move along. They attract little insect life and offer no nectar.
l Plant large thin-stemmed shrubs. Heaven for chameleons is a garden filled with a dense under-storey of shrubs with a range of perch sizes for juveniles and adults.
l Provide food. Chameleons eat small insects such as moths, butterflies, flies, fruitflies, aphids, woodlice, beetles, spiders and small grasshoppers. The best way to attract chameleons to your garden is to make sure that the soil is covered in a thick mulch of compost, decaying autumn leaves and woodchips.
This rich forest floor environment will attract an entire microcosm of insect life, and chameleons will arrive.
l Develop a compost heap in a quiet corner of the garden with the precise purpose of breeding insects. Baby chameleons will relish the tiny flies, grubs, beetles and gnats that thrive around a compost heap.
l Build an insect hotel. Very fashionable in Europe, insect hotels are artistic columns or cubes of plant material that are glued or wired together. The common theme is that each material must be considered a suitable home by respectable insects and spiders. A hotel could include a mishmash of pinecones, hollow bamboo stems, lotus pods or even old pieces of wood with holes of different sizes drilled into the stem.
l Plant flowering shrubs. Chameleons thrive in a garden that has a complete ecosystem of small, medium and large flowering shrubs which are constantly attracting insect activity. Smaller flowering shrubs covered in flowers are particularly loved by insects and are regarded as food table bridges between large twiggy shrubs. Many of the honeybee-friendly plants, such as euryops daisies, ribbon bushes, sage, fireball lilies, gazania and vygies will attract a variety of insects.
l Plant large shrub trees: Adult chameleons thrive in the higher perches found in large shrubs or small trees such as the dune crowberry, pompon trees, sweet thorn acacias and wild olive.
l Remove predators: Cats are one of the biggest threats to chameleons, birds and microfauna in the garden.
l Avoid using pesticides that kill flies, crickets, ants and micro-insect life that chameleons rely on for their food.
l Avoid illegal traders. If you see indigenous chameleons for sale, they are not legal. You are urged not to buy them.
As with all indigenous birds, butterflies, bees and dragonflies, provide the habitat and if your neighbourhood is a suitable home, the chameleons will arrive.
What to plant
A chameleon-friendly garden is as much about the structure of the vegetation as it is about the plants. This notwithstanding, here is a list of chameleon-friendly plants:
l Low-growing groundcovers: Try the lilac carpet geranium (Geranium multisectum), gazanias, bulbine, dwarf agapanthus or kingfisher daisy.
l Shade-loving shrubs under trees: Try the spurflower (Plectranthus spp.), asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus), ribbon bush, arum and fireball lily.
l Low-growing shrubs with thin branches: Confetti bush, euryops daisy, tea bush or azaleas.
l Larger shrubs with thin branches: sage bush (Buddleja salviifolia), hop bush, mahonia, lion’s ear, polygala or dune crowberry (Searsia crenata).
For more information, go to krystaltolley.wix.com
GENERAl GARDENING TIPS
Now is the time to sow African daisy seed for a blaze of orange and yellow Namaqualand flowers in August.
Autumn is a good time to plant new trees and shrubs and give a dressing of a balanced fertiliser to established trees and shrubs. Make sure when buying a tree or shrub for their autumn colour that you select those showing the richest hue, as leaf colour can vary even in the same species. Be aware that indigenous fynbos shrubs are easily burnt by fertiliser.
Plant containers with daffodil, grape hyacinth, ranunculus, freesia and tulip to brighten entrances and patios. Ornamental kale, lobelia, nemesia and pansy make attractive subjects for containers. If your patio is lightly shaded, then pots of clivia, primula and cineraria could be just what you need.
Support Earth Day (Monday) by making use of all available space and resources in your garden. Grow edible plants among flowers and make use of walls, old tyres, poles and trellis to grow climbing vegetables and fruit. Channel rainwater off roofs into tanks and mulch around shrubs to save water.