How to create a chameleon-friendly garden:

In the greater Cape Town area there are three species of chameleon to be found, the most common being the Cape Dwarf Chameleon (Bradypodion pumilum).  The survival of chameleons is at risk because of urbanisation. Gardeners can help chameleons by turning their gardens into suitable habitats to sustain them. Chameleons need a fairly large area in which to roam, which is a problem if yours is the only chameleon-friendly garden in the neighbourhood. However, if you can persuade enough of your neighbours to go chameleon friendly too, you can create a series of linked gardens giving them enough of a habitat to maintain a healthy wild population.  (Please note that indigenous chameleons are protected and buying or selling them, or keeping them as pets, is illegal.)

Chameleons need good vegetation cover and a mix of plants of different sizes to provide perches for juveniles and adults.  Small shrubs with thin branches, like the Kluitjieskraal False Buchu (Agathosma ovata ‘Kluitjieskraal’, the Tygerberg Spiderhead (Serruria aemula var. congesta), the Ninepin Heath (Erica mammosa), the Pink Sage Bush (Ocimum labiatum until recently known as Orthosiphon amabilis) or restios such as the Namaqua Thatching Reed (Thamnochortus bachmannii) will provide small perches for the youngsters.  Larger shrubs such as the Box-leaf Phylica (Phylica buxifolia), Golden Pagoda (Mimetes chrysanthus) and Dune Crowberry (Searsia crenata until recently known as Rhus crenata) will provide more sturdy perches for the bigger chameleons.

Cape Dwarf Chameleon: Photo: Krystal Tolley, provided by Hippo Communications

Cape Dwarf Chameleon: Photo: Krystal Tolley, provided by Hippo Communications

A garden with many large or mature trees with no undergrowth or low-hanging branches is not good for chameleons.  Overcome this problem by thinning the trees and planting an understorey of shade-loving perennials and shrubs, such as the Silver Spurflower (Plectranthus oertendahlii), Cwebe Asparagus Fern, (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Cwebe’), Fireball Lily (Scadoxus multiflorus ssp. katharinae) and Cape Stock-rose (Sparrmannia africana).  Bad news is that the lawn will have to go, or be drastically reduced – but that’s actually good news for your water bill. To a chameleon a large lawn is like a desert, without food, protective cover or perches, that they have to cross. Replace it with more garden beds or groundcovers and low-growing shrubs such as the Lilac Carpet Geranium (Geranium multisectum), Wild Violet (Monopsis unidentata) and Tyson’s Euryops (Euryops tysonii).

The final vital ingredient is food. Chameleons eat small insects, including flies, fruitflies, moths, butterflies and small grasshoppers. This means that to provide food for chameleons you have to make your garden friendly to insects too.  Stop using insecticides and allow your garden to achieve a natural balance between predators and prey.  Lay down biodegradable mulch, such as woodchips, leaves, or partially decomposed compost, and keep a compost heap, both of which provide food and breeding places for insects.  And grow indigenous plants that have flowers or fruits that attract insects.  By making these changes, in addition to providing a home and food for chameleons, you are increasing local biodiversity, and aiding beneficial insects, such as honeybees, by providing them with food.

 

Plants to feed honeybees in the garden

Honeybees are also facing threats to their survival. The amount of land available to them to forage for pollen and nectar is continually reducing, mainly due to the expansion of cities and towns, with the result that they cannot find enough food to sustain their colonies. Bees are also attacked by pests and diseases, and killed by pesticides.  Honeybees are pollinators of thousands of wild plants, as well as many of our food crops.  Without them, many indigenous plants would be unable to set seed and survive into the next generation, and we’d have to go without many fruits, nuts and vegetables, and of course there would be no honey.

Gardeners can help honeybees by planting more plants with flowers rich in nectar and/or pollen that provide food for them.  Bees visit and feed on a wide variety of flowers, so there are hundreds of plants to choose from.  Next time you walk through Kirstenbosch, or on the mountain, take note of which flowers they visit and add them to your garden.  Also try to choose plants that flower at different times to spread the availability of food throughout the year.

Bees love most Buchus (Agathosma species), and they feed on many Cape Heaths (Erica species).  Many members of the protea family are excellent bee plants, particularly the Spiderheads such as (Serruria aemula.), Golden Pagoda (Mimetes chrysanthus) and Conebushes, such as the Spicy Conebush (Leucadendron tinctum), as well as most Proteas (Protea spp.) and Pincushions (Leucospermum species).

Restios, such as the Thatching Reeds (Thamnochortus spp.), are wind pollinated and the male flowerheads produce masses of pollen that is busily collected by the bees.  Bees also feed on the flowers of Asparagus species, White Ironwood (Vepris lanceolata), Sour Fig (Carpobrotus deliciosus) and many Vygies (Lampranthus, Drosanthemum, Ruschia), many daisies including Dune Daisy (Felicia echinata), Silver Lace-leaf Ursinia (Ursinia sericea) . . . the list goes on and will be available at the BotSoc Kirstenbosch Plant Fair.

 Information supplied by Alice Notten

Find out more and get your chameleon and bee friendly plants at the

References and further reading:

For more information on the plants go to PlantZAfrica (www.plantzafrica.com)

For more information on chameleons go to Krystal A. Tolley’s website: http://krystaltolley.wix.com/krystaltolley

For more information on the Global Pollination and Honeybee Forage Project, go to the SANBI website: http://www.sanbi.org/programmes/conservation/pollination-and-honeybees