Wednesday 18 November 2020

Evaluation of the Green roof trials conducted in Durban

A brief evaluation of the Green roof trials conducted in Durban over a period of ten years

Early in 2009 I became involved in the eThekwini Municipality Green Roof Pilot Project at which time I started the trial of a number of species of local plants at Mount Moreland north of Durban.

Delosperma lineare 

As from 1987, prior to becoming involved in the eThekwini Municipality Green Roof Pilot Project I had considerable exposure to green roof construction in Germany. Therefore, it was natural to copy as closely as possible the methods employed in green roof construction in Germany. Using drainage and engineered growing medium consisting of materials such as light weight expanded clay granules, perlite and vermiculite. In addition, we incorporated very little organic material as done in Germany with the percentage not exceeding 5%.

Ledebouria apertifolia

For many reasons it was decided to limit our research to exclusively local indigenous plants that occur naturally within 50 of the test site. In regards to my own testing I have added a few plants collected in the very hot and dry Ndumo area.

This evaluation has been done after most of my test plants had been grown for ten years with virtually no attention, being left almost completely on their own with no watering, no fertilising, no addition of soils to the trays or mulching with compost.

Gladiolus cruentus

Ten years later the evaluation of the projects has proven that  many of the practices carried out in Europe to not be true for our circumstances.

Firstly, drainage appears to not be essential because the drainage very soon becomes invaded by plant roots which decrease or completely prevents its operation. The reality is that during periods of heavy rain the majority of the water leaves the roof via surface drainage.

Specially engineered soils appear to not be essential other than they are a little lighter a factor that can very easily be mitigated during the design stage of the roof to allow it to carry a little more weight.

As observed in nature many of the plants that we trialled grow in humus rich soils on rocky slabs in nature. In literature found on the internet it is generally recommended not to add more than 5 percent organic matter to the growing medium mix. Experiments have proven that most of the plants that we did trials on grow better with considerably more compost. Recently since the end of the ten-year testing period I have found great benefit in heavily mulching the plants with fresh sheep manure just before the onset of the first rain in the spring time.

Clearly a great range of South African plants are extremely suitable for use on green roofs growing in shallow relatively nutrient poor soils

Many indigenous orchids are ideal candidates for growing on nutrient poor green roofs, especially orchids from the genus Eulophia, in particular the very showy Eulophia speciosa.

Eulophia speciosa

All of the local indigenous bulbous plants trialled have been an overwhelming success, one of the main reasons for this appears to be that during the period of maximum growth there is sufficient moisture for good growth from the rain with a dry period during the winter when they are naturally dormant.

A number of new plants have established themselves from seed that was blown in or brought in by birds. Of particular note are Bulbine natalensis, Cyanotis speciosa, Delosperma lineare, Drimiopsis maculata, the orchid Eulophia speciosa and a Plectranthus sp collected at Ndumo.

Below are lists of plants that I have trialled at my home in purpose manufactured planting trays most of which have been in trialled for ten years the minimum period that plants have been grown is 4 years.

Plants trialled that have done well

Adenium multiflorum

Aeollanthus parvifolius

Agapanthus campanulatus

Agapanthus praecox

Albuca fastigiata

Albuca setosa

Aloe arborescens

Aloe greenii

Aloe tenuior

Anthericum saundersiae

Ceropegia nilotica

Ceropegia stapeliiformis

Crassula expansa

Crassula lanceolata

Crassula multicava

Crassula obovata

Crassula ovata

Crassula pellucida

Crassula perfoliata

Crassula sarmentosa

Cyanotis speciosa

Cyrtanthus sanguineous

Delosperma lineare

Delosperma tradescantioides

Dipcadi viride

Drimia delagoensis

Drimia elata

Drimia flagillaris

Drimiopsis maculata

Drimiopsis maxima

Eulophia speciosa

Eulophia leitchii

Eulophia citellifera

Eulophia clavicornis

Eulophia parviflora

Eulophia unidentified Ndumo

Cheilanthus viridis

Gasteria croucheri

Gladiolus cruentus

Huernia histrix

Huernia zebrina

Hypoxis costata

Kleinia fulgens

Ledebouria apertifolia

Ledebouria revoluta

Murdannia simplex

Orbea longidens

Ornithogalum sp. Dwarf bought

Ornithogalum sp. Minute kloof

Pelargonium alchemilloides

Plectranthus neochilis

Plectranthus creeping sp. Ndumo

Scadoxus multiflorus

Scilla natalensis

Selaginella dregei

Vera-duthiea zebrina

Zingela pooleyorum     



Plants that have self-established

Scadoxus puniceus

Aloe maculata

Aloe ferrox

Euphorbia tirucalli

Plectranthus madagascariensis

Tetradenia riparia

Kalanchoe rotundifolia


Plants freely spreading from seed

Agapanthus praecox

Bulbine natalensis

Crassula expansa

Cyanotis speciosa

Delosperma lineare

Drimiopsis maculata

Eulophia citellifera


Eulophia speciosa

Murdannia simplex

Orbea longidens

Ornithogalum sp. Dwarf bought

Pelargonium alchemilloides

Plectranthus creeping sp Ndumo

Plectranthus neochilis



Bidens Pilosa established from windblown seed although they are aesthetically unwanted, they complete their life cycles or die from drought before they produce seed. Weeds have not been a threat to the growth or the health of the plants.

Under normal conditions weeds would need to be controlled mainly for aesthetic reasons as well as to keep the plantings purely indigenous.

Establishment of grasses

In addition to unwanted annual agricultural weeds the grass Melinis repens has established in some of the trays during the rainy growing season dying off during the dry winter leaving seed to resprout with a onset of spring rains. Melinis is probably a good and certainly an attractive addition on most extensive green roof plantings.

Cyrtanthus sanguineous

Conclusion and recommendations

The vast majority of the plants tested did extremely well.

Soil similar to the soils that the plants are naturally found growing in produced the best results however all plants grew satisfactory in a general fairly open well drained growing medium.

Occasional watering and the removal of unwanted weeds would be of great benefit.

An annual mulching with either a well-rotted and leaf mould of bark compost or animal compost such as sheep dung appears to be of great benefit.

I would not recommend the addition of inorganic fertilisers because they would promote weak rapid growth of the plants

Michael Hickman


Vanilla roscheri

Vanilla roscheri Family:   Orchidaceae The flower of Vanilla roscheri photo taken by Roddy JC Ward A very attractive orchid that has...