isiZulu names for invasive plants

isiZulu names for invasive plants


Naming Invasive Alien Plants into Indigenous Languages: KwaZulu-Natal Case Study, South Africa

Project Team: 

Bheka J. Nxele, Bheki A. Mdletshe1, Bheka E.B. Memela1, Menzi M. Nxumalo, Hlobisile J. Sithole, Phakamani J. Mlaba, Khulekani Nhleko, Zukiswa Zulu, Lindelani Zuke, Sanelo Mchunu1, Mthobisi Hadebe and Nomzamo A Mncube

The spread of invasive alien plants (IAPs) across countries does not only dilute the indigenous biodiversity richness and degrade the environmental integrity of local environments, but it also threatens human livelihoods.

Although no studies have been conducted on the relationship between IAPs and indigenous knowledge on plants, contributors suspect that IAPs might have negative impacts on cultural application of indigenous plants, more especially in the case of medicinal plant use.

In the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), South Africa, where there are mainly isiZulu speakers, the use of plants for various human benefits is still relatively high.

Plants are used for many reasons including traditional medicine, food, shelter and cultural rituals such as during burial ceremonies of family members. In certain parts of KZN, when a person is buried, a row of medium-sized logs of Black Wattle (Acacia mearnsii) are put on top of the casket to prevent soil from piling directly on top of the casket.

Traditional healers rely heavily on certain plants to meet their different objectives and this now includes IAPs. Traditionally, they would use indigenous plants, which are known by their isiZulu common names but with the influx of IAPs, confusion between indigenous and alien plants has crept in.

In some instances, an indigenous plant and an alien plant which resemble each other now even share the same isiZulu common name. Alternatively, there is confusion when one has to collect an indigenous plant but cannot differentiate between that and a similar IAP, which might not have an isiZulu common name (in that case it does not matter whether the IAP has an isiZulu common name or not).

Additional problems arise when the intention is to propagate an indigenous species and an IAP ends up being unintentionally propagated. Furthermore, where indigenous plants have been over-utilized and become scarce to find and thus switching to an IAP that resembles the scarce indigenous plant, becomes an option.

To make matters worse, when naming IAPs if the process is unregulated, IAPs are given attractive, positive names that unintentionally might create an impression that “these plants are good”.

The aim of the project:

a) To advocate for the naming of IAPs into indigenous languages and that the naming process should be structured and regulated,
b) To systematically suggest names for some of the dominant IAPs within eThekwini Municipality, KZN province of South Africa, as a case study,
c) To review existing isiZulu common names of some IAPs to make sure those names are not confused with those of indigenous plants;
d) To advocate for IAPs to be given negative names and finally,
e) To facilitate the naming process and adoption of isiZulu common names for IAPs.

Invasive Alien Plant with isiZulu Name

  1. Albizia lebbeck (Lebbeck tree) – Usolo
  2. Caesalpinia decapetala (Mauritius thorn) – Uboboluncane
  3. Campuloclinium macrocephalum (Pom pom) – Indlolothi
  4. Leucaena leucocephala (Leucaena) – Ubobo
  5. Pereskia aculeate (Pereskia) – iqwaningi
  6. Schinus terebinthifolius (Brazilian pepper) uthango; isibhaha 1b in Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, 3 in Free State, Gauteng, North-West, Northern Cape and Western Cape

Selected list of invasive alien plants with isiZulu Name similar to isiZulu Name for an indigenous plant.

  1. Solanum mauritianum (Bugweed) Ubhongabhonga 1b
  2. Lantana camara (Lantana) Ubhici/ ubhicilwesalukazi 1b
  3. Rubus cuneifolius (American bramble) Ijikijolo-elinomhobholo 1b
  4. Canna indica (Indian shot) Udabulamaxhaphozi 1b
  5. Cardiospermum glandiflorum (Balloon vine) Ugigane 1b
  6. Parthenium hystephorus (Famine weed) Umbulalazwe 1b
  7. Pistia stratiotes (Water lettuce) Indwane 1b
  8. Campuloclinium macrocephalum (Pom pom) Uphomuphomu 1b
  9. Senna didymobotrya (Peanut butter cassia) Umakhephuka 1b
  10. Pontederia cordata (Pickerel weed) Ihleza 1b Note: ihleza is a maize cob, the Pontederia cordata flower looks like a maize cob
  11. Arundo donax (Giant reed) Umhlangawezimvu 1b Note: Umhlangambumbulu-‘umhlanga’ is a reed, ‘mbumbulu’ is a negative way of implying ‘it looks like, but it is not’
  12. Eucalyptus grandis (Gum tree) Ugumtlee 2 But in riverine systems 1b Ugamthilini- is a well-known name for Gumtree

Invasive Alien Plants with isiZulu Name confused with existing isiZulu Common Name of indigenous plants.

  1. Schinus terebinthifolius (Brazilian pepper tree) uthango; isibhaha 1b in Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, 3 in Free State, Gauteng, North-West, Northern Cape and Western Cape
  2. Albizia lebbeck (Lebbeck tree) unjengosolo, isolo 1b – usolo is a Zulu name for an indigenous
    tree Albizia adianthifolia. “Unjengosolo’ – ‘unjengo’- it looks like, Albizia lebbeck
    looks like an indigenous tree Albizia adianthifolia. The proposed name indicates that it is an imitation of something else (a wannabe)
  3. Leucaena leucocephala (Leucaena) ubobo, ulusina 2 ubobo, is name for an indigenous tree
    Adenopodia spicata ‘Umdungazwe’ – ‘dunga’ agitate/ disturb, ‘izwe’ – country or region. The invasions of Leucaena leucocephala creates ecological disturbance.
  4. Caesalpinia decapetala (Mauritius thorn) ‘uboboluncane’, sounds like it is a subspecies of an indigenous tree Adenopodia spicata, and this is misleading. ‘Uvimbangameva’ – (direct translation would be “holdback-with-thorns”). ‘vimba’ – is to restrict or prevent movement, ‘ameva’- thorns. Where it invades it forms a thick mass that blocks pathways
  5. Pereskia aculeata (Pereskia) iqwaningi 1b Sikhona isimila sendabuko esibizwa ngoqwaningi. Indigenous climber(Capparis tomentosa) is already called ‘uqwaningi’ ‘uzimbeva’ The name ‘zimbeva’ is usually used to characterize an angry, shouting person
  6. Eichhornia crassipes (Water hyacinth) uzibo 1b There is an indigenous plant called ‘izibu/
    amazibo’known by the same name Umantuntanamanzi- ‘ntunta’- up and down movement of a floating item, the Eichhornia crassipes is a floating waterweed moving with the direction of water. The name ‘umantuntanamanzi’ is made up of a verb ‘ukuntunta’ which means to float and ‘namanzi’, which means with water (direct translation would mean “floating on water”). “Ukuntunta” means to wander or to move about aimlessly. The plant wanders only aided by water, which determines where it eventually ends up, hence the name “umantuntanamanzi”.


Nxele, Beka & Mdletshe, Bhekizizwe & Memela, Bheka & Nxumalo, Menzi & Sithole, Hlobisile & Mlaba, Phakamani & Nhleko, Khulekani & Zulu, Zukiswa & Zuke, Lindelani & Mchunu, Sanelo & Hadebe, Mthobisi & Mncube, Nomzamo. (2019). Naming Invasive Alien Plants in Indigenous Languages: KwaZulu-Natal Case Study, South Africa. 10.4172/2327-4417.1000207.