Silverleaf Nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium), also known as satansbos in Afrikaans, is threatening the sustainability of agriculture in South Africa, according to Weber Truter from the Herold Agricultural Association. He predicts that satansbos will render fertile agricultural soil worthless in the near future and threaten production stability.
Satansbos not only has a negative impact on soil fertility, but also reduces the value of irrigation lands, threatens production sustainability and reduces farm income. As such, it could lead to farmers and farmworkers losing their jobs, Truter said at the Agri Wes-Cape meeting held in Oudtshoorn. “Like Satan, it’s the root of all evil and once it infiltrates your land, it’s almost impossible to get rid of it because of its strong root system and huge capacity to multiply,” Truter said.
The plant belongs to the same family as the potato and tomato and produces between 80 to 100 berries, each containing 60 to 130 seeds. Its total root system can measure up to 50m and its pen root up can measure up to 3m. Seeds are spread via animals, wind and water. The high rains experienced periodically in the Klein Karoo and southern Cape are contributing to the problem, as seeds are spread through the rivers and carried onto production lands through irrigation systems.
Truter explained that the problem is also exacerbated by many new farmers and so-called “weekend farmers”, who are unaware of the decimating impact of satansbos on soil health. He also referred to Landcare’s black wattle eradication programme, asking, “Why can’t this programme be expanded to other problem plants, like satansbos?” Truter called on Agri Wes-Cape to investigate whether the Department of Agriculture still has a dedicated position for someone to inform farmers about the risks of this plant, and reprimand them and even take individuals to court who are not complying with suggested management practices. “If there is such a person, then they must be on long leave, as nothing is currently being done to address this problem,” he complained.
Annelene Swanepoel, from the Department of Agriculture in the Western Cape, told Farmer’s Weekly she wasn’t aware if there ever was such a person, but that consultants are supposed to fill such positions. She added that there are weed scientists at both Langgewens and Elsenburg who would try to help find better management solutions if they were aware of the problem. Kobus Nel from the Oudtshoorn Experimental Farm pointed out that research on satansbos is currently done by the Agricultural Research Centre and that there was an information session at the experimental farm on 12 March. He cautioned, however, that there aren’t any quick-fix solutions for the complicated problem of satansbos. – Glenneis Erasmus