Duranta erecta or Golden Dewdrop is a widely planted, but rather horrid plant here in Australia. I strongly recommend that anyone considering buying and planting Duranta consider some more friendly alternatives instead. Here are some of the reasons why I think Duranta should not be planted in the home garden, especially within Australia.
It’s becoming a weed
Non-sterile varieties of Duranta have the potential to become serious environmental weeds. It produces masses of small orange berries after flowering which are attractive to some species of bird. Birds that pig out on the berries then distribute the seeds far and wide in their droppings. If the bird is lucky enough to be able to defecate over a patch of native bushland the seeds may germinate and can out-compete native species.
It’s murdered people, and it doesn’t like pets
Both the leaves and the berries of Duranta are toxic (although not to the birds that spread them as it seems) due to the presence of plant chemicals known as saponins. This plant can be deadly to pets, the reported death toll of pets this plant has caused in Australia alone includes six puppies, a cat and some pet parrots and finches. In the late 19th century a two year old lad died in Queensland after eating the berries. Symptoms of Duranta poisoning are most unpleasant and include an upset stomach, drowsiness, nausea, fever, vomiting and convulsions.
It’s over-used in commercial landscapes
I see Duranta planted everywhere in the car parks of unit blocks and commercial properties, it’s not very exciting and has been done to death. McDonald’s in an uninspired attempt to make their gardens match their corporate branding chose a few virtually un-killable plants to plant in the gardens outside most of their stores in Australia. They often plant Rhoeo to represent the red backdrop (Rhoeo is more purple in colour but hey it’s close enough I guess) and for the golden arches themselves they often use a hedged cultivar of Duranta called ‘Sheena’s Gold’ which has yellow leaves when exposed to full sun. Ask yourself this question? Do you really want your garden to look like a McDonald’s drive through or some other commercial afterthought?
It’s horribly spiky and itchy
Branches of Duranta have 2cm long spines all the way along them that can easily pierce or scratch skin and are tough enough to even puncture through gardening gloves. The spines if they break inside the skin are difficult to remove as they can be quite deep. I find also that even when I’ve only been pricked or scratched lightly, the area of skin around the wound will become very irritated and itch like mad. Duranta reportedly can cause dermatitis just from being handled.
It can grow into a monster
If you have the motivation to prune your Duranta every month this may not be an issue. But if you’re a lazy gardener and let it grow it can soon reach epic proportions with some varieties reaching 5m tall by 5m wide. At this point they are very difficult to remove with seriously cutting up your arms in the process. Because Duranta is a dense shrub they also have the potential envelope and block the light from reaching anything planted around them, and I’ve seen them create a monoculture in bushland in a similar vein to Lantana (which like Duranta is in the family Verbenaceae) only taller.
Off cuts take forever to break down
The first time I pruned the Duranta growing around the house I rent, I made the mistake of putting cut up pieces of Duranta into the compost. Once the compost was ready to use I mixed it through the soil where I was planning to establish a vegetable patch. To my horror when I went to plant my vegetable seedlings my hands were picked by the spines on the Duranta off cuts. Over a year later my hands still occasionally get pricked by the off cuts which are still yet to fully break down in the soil.
What to plant instead of Duranta
There are a couple of native Australian species that can be planted instead of Duranta. Graptophyllum illicifolium or Native Holly Fuchsia as its name suggests has holly shaped leaves and produces masses of deep pink flowers. It will not grow much larger than 2m tall and likes some protection from the sun so is best planted under a tree canopy. Another suitable replacement would be Syzygium australe, a type of lily pilly. Many different cultivars of S. australe have been bred to suit every purpose, many of which can be hedged. S. australe produces white, fluffy, staminate flowers which are followed by plump, glossy red berries that are edible but astringent.