Death to the Orangeberry Plant

My rubus pentalobus is under a death sentence. What, you may wonder, is rubus pentalobus. It has taken me some time to get a grip on its proper name and I may soon forget it again but most of us know it as the orangeberry plant. It is a ground cover plant, marketed widely in recent years with a key selling point of producing edible fruit.

I am guessing that in its native Taiwan it may produce more fruit but it has the reputation of being very reluctant in this country. I was optimistic with the second season and a solid mat of it in a hot, sunny position. It put up a good number of small white flowers in spring but these translated into precious few orange berries in summer. And berries might be slightly overstating the case. Certainly they were orange but at little larger than a glass pin head and held singly, berries seemed an unjustifiably generous descriptor. Indeed, Mark just looked incredulous when we spotted the first fruit. It is difficult to describe the taste. I think the entire crop was two each so the best I can say is fruity, in moderation.

But it is not the ever so slightly disappointing harvest that had me donning the black hat to pronounce the death sentence. No. What the rubus lacks in fruiting capacity, it more than makes up in vigour. Knowing that it could be a little rampant, I used it in a defined border where I wanted the unity of a single ground cover to set off a little collection of topiaried camellias. It was confined by concrete edging on three sides and a box hedge on the fourth. Not that the rubus was going to let that stop its inexorable advance. The moment I turned my back, it would leap the concrete edging and get its roots into both the lawn and the gravel paths. I could cope with that, but its inclination to weasel its way through the buxus and even climb started to ring alarm bells. Ground covers that can moonlight as climbers are a worry. Added to that, after only two years, the ground is such a mat of congested roots that it is near impenetrable and the rubus is even threatening to overpower my valued camellia specimens. Spending several hours every couple of months trying to thin and contain the plant does not seem worth the effort to me.

I will not be digging the rubus to pot up and sell. That seems altogether irresponsible. Though if anyone has a large clay cliff they wish to retain, a precipice perhaps, a landslip or maybe a large stretch of coastal erosion which they were thinking of retaining with concrete slabs, this plant may be just the ticket. I would guess that it has the potential to turn up on Regional Council’s banned list sooner rather than later. We will be resorting to gyphosate to carry out the death sentence. The tangled mass of rampant root makes digging it out difficult. You have been warned. Keep this plant controlled and under close supervision.

A bonsai camellia under threat from the thuggish rubus pentalobus.

A bonsai camellia under threat from the thuggish rubus pentalobus.

Like his father before him, Mark has a deep distrust of plants with weed potential. Maintaining a large garden is a delicate balancing act at the best of times without allowing rampant colonisers to escape. There are no annual forget-me-nots here. Charming they may be, but they did not earn their common name lightly. Let them into your garden and it takes years to stop them seeding everywhere. Rampant seeders, subversive clumpers, overpowering thugs – no matter how pretty, such plants are not welcome. We have tended to add violets into the category of invaders with their inclination to spread and their resilience. Indeed, despite my best efforts in several places in the garden, clumps of violets keep staging a come back. And down in the paddock is a clump which Mark refers to as Grandma’s violets. In fact I think they are a relic of his great grandmother’s garden from the late 1800s. Now we think the violets will make a more acceptable ground cover than the rubus. Their invasive tendencies are not too serious. In 120 years, the rubus would have colonised the better part of Tikorangi whereas Grandma’s violets have just gently survived all competition and kept going. Their flowers are prettier than the rubus, too. I think they have earned a recall.