Roots 'n' Shoots: February 2014

Why is RnS Moving to

Google had brought out an algorithm update in May 2017. With previous updates like Panda or Penguin, Mr G had penalized blogs or websites with low quality content and those more focused on aggressive adverts (including multiple ads or pop-up ads in articles). However, many blogs/websites that weren't shady got penalized beyond recovery too and a lot of people lost their income. The May 2017 update has had wide-scale effect on blogs and websites, but without any explanation from Mr G as to why or what it does. RnS has been hit by it too and hard. RnS organic search stats (i.e. users from Google) have dropped by 75% since. Even though RnS is not a source of income, I tried to figure out why RnS is being culled. It seems that it doesn't really have anything to do with RnS per se, but likely because RnS is FREE and not paying for page ranking (via AdWords or Ad Ranking). Now it is likely being aggressively shoved to lower page rankings to accommodate the paid ads.

I cannot rely on Mr G anymore to get RnS' content where it is needed. So I am busy moving RnS to Wordpress where you can find me as Whisker Flowers @

I am also imposing 301 redirects from already moved posts and pages!

- The Shroom - (AKA Whisker Flowers)

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Ladybeetle (Ladybug or Ladybird): Biological Control - Garden Critter of the Month

Ladybeetles (Ladybugs or Ladybirds) at a glance

Predator or Pest
Value to Gardener:
3/5 - Pest Controller (some are pests!)
Danger to Humans:
1/5 – Harmless
5/5 – They’ll arrive or you can buy some

Anatomy of Ladybug
(ladybird, lady beetle)

Quick Intro

Ladybugs, ladybirds or ladybeetles; these insects are firm favourites amongst gardeners and non-gardeners alike with the classical image of a red-and-black-spotted beetle coming to mind. Little do most people realise that, yes, most ladybirds are beneficial and gobble up aphids, but many are pests too, devastating crops overnight!

Science Stuff

Ladybeetles have been unfortunately miss-named by the more popular term ‘ladybug’, since they aren’t true bugs (those belonging to the Hemiptera family are bugs; where half of the wing is membranous and the other half is hardened).

Ladybeetles are beetles belonging to the Coleoptera order of insects and have forewings that are completely hardened (elytra). The forewings cover the hind wings, which are fully membranous and used for flight.

Ladybeetle with elytra and hind wings expanded for flight

Ladybeetles belong to the Coccinellidae family of beetles. They have many different combinations of black, yellow, orange, red colours arranged in a myriad of stripes and spots or otherwise pattern-less.


Ladybeetles are where their prey items or food plant is. This means that the beneficial ladybug fly in and breed on plants with prey items, whereas pest-species invade agriculturally-important crop stands.


Most adult ladybeetles and larvae are carnivorous and will munch through armies of aphids, mealy bugs, thrips and similar vegetable pests. Some ladybeetles are generalists, feeding on a wide range of pest insects, whereas other might specialise in a few, see table below.

Beneficial ladybeetles, their names and pests they specialise in destroying.
Common Name
Scientific Name
Pest eaten
Black two-spot ladybeetle
Chilocorus distigma
Red scale of citrus
Black-ringed ladybeetle
Oenopia cinctella
Psyllids, leaf beetle eggs & larvae, black and green aphids
Humbug ladybeetle
Micraspis striata
Small insects (thrips)
Spotted Amber ladybeetle
Hippodamia variegata
Aphid specialist
Chequered ladybeetle
Harmonia vigintiduomaculata
Soft bodied pests (aphids, mealy bugs, scale)
Lunate ladybeetle
Cheilomenes lunata
Black mealy bug predator
Exochomus flavipes
Aphids, mealy bugs, soft scale, cochineal insects

The Lunate and Black Mealy Bug Predator ladybeetles are dispersed across South Africa, which means that when you garden is under attack these super-beetles will come to the rescue. The Black Two-Spot and Humbug ladybeetles occurs Northern and Eastern parts of South Africa, whereas the Spotted Amber ladybeetle also occurs along the coast. The Chequered ladybeetle is only found along the eastern coast line and the Black-ringed ladybeetle is found in the Cape regions.

Yellow Shouldered Ladybeetle (Apolinus lividigaster)
 eating milkweed aphid (Aphis nerii)

There is one big consideration you should be aware of when relying on your ladybeetles for pest control: Ladybeetles will only be present when a heavy infestation (thick layers on several plants) of pest species are available. This means no pesticide use, organic or otherwise, so that pest populations can reach large enough numbers to attract ladybeetles. Once the ladybeetles arrive they will make short work of the pests on the plants. So the trade-off would be resisting the urge to wipe out the aphids until the ladybeetles are recruited. I am not sure about the exact amount of aphids our South African species can gobble in a day, but numbers range from 50-300!

I had a lot of ladies in my garden this year (yes, I did not spray once since the beginning of spring, mostly out of laziness, but then I had all these wonderful ladybeetles arrived to assist with my massive aphid infestation). The major infested crop was the Florence fennel, which was part of the insectary, and maintained the ladybeetles headquarters. Other infested plants included the peach, which was subsequently cleared of aphids by the beetles, and the potatoes, mainly at their leaf tops until they finished cropping and died. Once I removed the fennel, (as it was bolting not 'bulbing' in the hot sun, hence all the aphids) after a huge rain storm washed away most of the aphids, all the ladybeetles left for better pickings. Here are some photos of the ladybeetles (larvae, pupae and adults), which you will likely find in Gauteng, Johannesburg, Sandton and the surrounding areas (Roodepoort, West Rand...).

Black Mealy Bug Predator,
Exochomus flavipes

Black ringed ladybeetle'
completely spotless,
Oenopia cinctella
I did mention that the Black-ringed ladybeetle is a Cape inhabitant, but I think it might have been transported to Gauteng, because I had a whole swarm of them, including several morphological variants (morpho. var.). Ladybeetles and their variants are hard to ID, since spots and colours can change drastically! The community at Project Noah helped me out with IDs, so here are the ladybeetles morpho-variants:

Black ringed ladybeetle,
Variation 3: two tiny black spots,
Oenopia cinctella
Black ringed ladybeetle
Variation 2: two hemi-stripes,
Oenopia cinctella
Black ringed ladybeetle
Variation 1: 4 solid stripes,
Oenopia cinctella
Black ringed ladybeetle
Pupae new,
Oenopia cinctella
Black ringed ladybeetle
Pupae old,
Oenopia cinctella

Ladybeetle larvae black and white,
I think these are the black-ringed larvae
They look like little monsters! :)

Lunate ladybeetle,
Cheilomenes lunata
Lunate ladybeetle,
Cheilomenes lunata
This one has newly emerged, hence lighter colour
Lunate ladybeetle pupae (bright orange),
Cheilomenes lunata

Ladybeetle larvae cream
I think these are the Lunate ladybeetle,
Cheilomenes lunata
Nice and fat!

Spotted Amber Ladybug
Hippodamia variegata
Spotted Amber Ladybug
Hippodamia variegata

I am not sure about this one, only saw it once in my garden
Think that it is a Melanic colouration (dark version) of the
Black ringed or Spotted Amber ladybeetle

Now we get to discuss some of the herbivorous ladybeetles. These ladybeetles lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves, both larvae and adults are herbivorous, quickly skeletonising leaves. Most plants affected are the Cucurbits (squash, pumpkin, watermelon, cucumber) and Solanaceae crops (peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, nightshade, Cape gooseberry).

Common Name
Scientific Name
Plants eaten
Cucurbit ladybeetle
Henosepilachna bifasciata
Cucurbits (pumpkin, watermelon, cucumber) and potato
Nightshade ladybeetle
Epilachna paykulli
Solanaceae family (potato, tomato)
Potato ladybeetle
Epilachna dregei
Potato, tomato, peppers, sometimes cucurbits

The Cucurbit and Nightshade ladybeetles are widespread throughout South Africa, so there is no escaping them! The Nightshade ladybeetle is restricted to the Northern and Eastern parts of South Africa.

Ladybeetle eggs
I had a massive infestation of Potato ladybeetles on the potatoes growing in the old pumpkin patch. The best way to deal with them is to pick them off by hand (into a plastic bag) and stomp on them (instant death). Any chemical pesticide that could wipe them out will also harm other ‘higher’ beneficial insects, such as spiders, bees, beetles and mantids. Unfortunately I don’t have an organic alternative, which would likely also harm other beneficials, so the only option is physical removal. Be careful when picking them off as they squirt a yellow liquid onto your hand that is smelly (a defence mechanism, known as reflex bleeding, which is unpleasant for predators to eat).  Otherwise if you could get some spider and mantids into the patch, they’ll likely lighten the infestation by eating a few.

Potato ladybeetle,
Epilachna dregei
Potato ladybeetle infestation on potatoes,
Epilachna dregei
Potato ladybeetle pupae,
Epilachna dregei
These have just pupated, the spikes fall off after a while
I was convinced I had taken pictures of the Potato Ladybeetle larvae, but clearly I was mistaken. They are about half the size of the other larvae, very bright orange and they are full of spikes. When I see one, I'll take a pic and post it here...

Ladybeetle – SOS

Globally we have a problem with our ladybeetles, much as with our amphibians, due to habitat destruction and the introduction of invasive species. The most prominent invasive species are:

Common Name
Scientific Name
Problem status
Multi-coloured Asian ladybeetles (MALB) or Harlequin ladybeetle or Halloween ladybeetle
Harmonia axyridis
World-wide invasion problem. In spring they eat aphids, in winter they feed on fruits leading to spoilage. MALB are sometimes crushed with grapes during wine-making and taint the wine with their reflex bleeding alkaloids.
Mexican Bean Beetle

Epilachna verivestis
Especially problematic in the United States. Herbivore that destroys several legume crops, such as beans, alfalfa, peanut, clover and others (okra, squash , eggplant).

Multi-coloured Asian Ladybeetle,
Harmonia axyridis,
Morphological variants, including melanic colourations 

It seems that exotic ladybeetles have a greater survival capacity than native ones, partly due to egg predation being less on exotics ladybeetles. This means that exotic ladybeetles are under less stress, produce more larvae and have greater overall populations, which out-compete native ladybeetles (Ref 1). Another possibility is that the invasive beetles carry disease-causing organisms unfamiliar to native beetles, which end up becoming infected and die, Ref 2 (much like when Smallpox was brought to America by European explorers and devastated the native Indian populations).

Several movements have been established to conserve and document native ladybeetles, such as The Lost Ladybug Project (North America) which aims to protect native ladybeetles. They also have a ladybeetle identification tool and links to additional projects with the same aim but for other animals. You can also make contributions of your ladybeetle spottings on Project Noah, and The Lost Ladybug Project is also there as Mission 34021.

Official Website

Official Website

Ladybeetles last thoughts…

Ladybeetles are definitely great biological control agents, but you have to wait until pest species multiply to high enough densities in order to have ladybeetles coming into your garden. Additionally, herbivorous species may cause confusion, especially amongst the larvae and pupae spotted in the garden. We all need to do our bit to help preserve our native species, such as the removal of invasive species, reduced pesticide use and help to document native species we see in our gardens.


Related Articles

Insectary - Information on establishing a biological control agent attractor (how to attract beneficial insects to your garden) and details on insects that can serve as biological control and the pests they consume.


Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! 😆

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Wild & Lawn Mushrooms

Ramaria flava 
Previously Clavaria flava

I have always loved fungi. So much so that, although my degree states ‘Genetics’ I practically duel-majored in genetics and microbiology. Several of my modules through undergraduate were either mycology or microbiology with my core genetics modules.

Fungi are fascinating organisms of which mushrooms or cap fungi are the most complex. I get very excited when I see one and have to stop and take some photos. We had a few popping up in our bushveld last year. I knew what one of them was, but the others still remains un-identified. This year we have had so much rain (in short burst) that the mushrooms have been popping up all over the lawn!

Fungi are made up of chitin; hard, sturdy cellular structures similar to plants, but grow as mycelium (thread-like structures) and do not contain chlorophyll (green photosynthesising pigment)… so they are not quite plants. They obtain their nutrients from other organisms, either through decomposition or parasitism, similar to animals, but they form fruiting bodies that contain spores… they are not quite animals either. Therefore, mushrooms seem to occupy a world between that of plants and animals. Scientists still argue about their taxonomic classification, but have placed them squarely between plants and animals under eukaryotic organisms.

Table 63 Basimycetes
Kunstformen der Natur (1900)
Kurt Stober Online Libnrary

Fungi have diverse habitats and each group has their own unique spore formation that distinguishes them.

Common Name
Genus representatives
Spore Type
Typical Habitat
Disease examples
Water moulds
High humidity or running water
Potato blight (Irish famine caused by Phytophthora)
Damping off disease of seedlings (Pythium)
Bread moulds/span>
Terrestrial, Soil, decaying plant or animal matter, some parasitic
Food spoilage such as Rhizopus stolonifer (black bread mould) on strawberries
Sac fungi
Saccharomyces (brewer’s yeast),
Morchella (morels),
Tuber (truffles)
Soil, decompos-ing plant matter and several parasitic or disease causing
Dutch elm (Ophiostoma spp.), chestnut blight (Claviceps spp.), ergots, white/brown wood rots
True Fungi
Club Fungi
Cap Fungi
Agaricus, Boletus, Cantharellus
Soil, decompos-ing plant matter, several parasitic or disease causing
Black stem, wheat rusts, corn smuts, wheat bunts
Note that Deuteromycota no longer exists due to it being non-spore forming stages of Ascomycota and Basidiomycota

Fungi increase in complexity as you move from Oomycetes (simple fungi) to Basidiomycetes (higher fungi). The groups can be simplified into three major types of fungi: moulds, yeasts and mushrooms.

Moulds are filamentous fungi, the ones as fluff on your bread! The compact fluff is termed mycelium and is made up of many single thread-like structures known as hyphae. Moulds also produce spores, borne on specialised reproductive organs known as conidia. Conidia are seen as little black spots on top of some of the hyphae. (Oomycetes & Zygomycetes).

Pin mould on peach

Yeasts are unicellular fungi. These are utilised in many culinary disciplines, such as beer brewing, wine-making, soy sauce production, bread making and myco-proteins are made from these. Several nasty diseases and infection are also caused by this set of fungi, specifically Candida albicans systemic infections. Some ‘culinary mushrooms’ are also in this group, such as Morels and Turkey Foot. Technically morels and bract fungi aren’t mushrooms, but ascomycetes, the difference is that ascomycetes have pores and not gills. (Ascomycetes)

Morchella septentrionalis,
Folds instead of gills

Mushrooms are macroscopic fungi, capable of producing large fruiting bodies. This edible fruiting body is what we most often associate with mushrooms, but this is only a small part of the whole organism. The rest is usually found under the ground as a large mycelium network. The fungi spores drop onto favourable decaying matter as a nutrient source. The mycelium grows in the matter and when the weather is optimal (wet and cool) fruiting commences. First fruiting is noticeable as small buds (similar to button mushrooms) with the cap still attached to the stalk. Later the fruits mature and spread out the cap to release spores with the wind (Portobello mushrooms are buttons that have matured). (Basidiomycetes).

On to the veld mushrooms… I came across several Beaked or Beret Earthstars, Geastrum pectinatum, of the Geastraceae Family. They are leathery and inedible. The ‘star’ termed the exoperidium is made up of 5-10 spikes. During hot and dry periods, the spikes shrivel and lower the globe (endoperidium) to the ground and may event curl around it to protect it. During rainy and wet weather, the spikes swell and lift the globe from the ground floor to expose the globe. Falling raindrops or passing animals expel puffs of spores out from the ‘beak’.

Can you spot them?
Beaked earthstar
Geastrum pectinatum
Beaked earthstar
Geastrum pectinatum
Beaked earthstar
Geastrum pectinatum
Beaked earthstar
Geastrum pectinatum
... I poke-poke them and they go poof-poof ... quite amusing such simple things J

This is the one I wasn’t able to identify. My ‘Mushrooms of South Africa’ book is fairly complete, but didn’t have one that looks like this.  Here are some pictures;

Unknown Mushroom

Unknown Mushroom

Unknown Mushroom

It smelled wonderfully mushroomy... Termitomyces? Macrocybe? I did not eat it, hence why I am still here posting blogs J

On to the ones on the lawn... at least I could ID all of these.

Yellow stinkhorn
P rubicundus
Smelly things which flies love!

No common name,  but considering its species name, it could be
'Small Agaric',
Agaricus diminutivus

'Small Agaric',
Agaricus diminutivus

Blackening Wax Gill,
Hygrocybe nigrescens

Termite fungus,
Termitomyces microcarpus
Comes up after rains from termite burrows beneath the soil

Termite fungus,
Termitomyces microcarpus

Termite fungus,
Termitomyces microcarpus
Looks like a good place to find fairies!

Common puffball,
Vascellum pratense

Glistening Ink Cap,
Coprinellus miaceus

Glistening Ink Cap,
Coprinellus miaceus

Shaggy Ink Cap,
Coprinus comatus
A lichen growing on the Acacia trees

Note!!! Do not eat any mushroom you cannot ID 100%, else you'll be N

I end off with this last stunning mushroom...
Lactarius indigo
Indigo milk cap or Blue milk cap

- Update April 2014 - 

I found this one growing on the grass clippings in the veld, fairly common to find in Autumn.

False parasol,
Chlorophyllum molybdites


Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! 😆

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