First introduced in the 1870s for hedges, African boxthorn soon went rogue. It thrives in coastal areas, as it can handle dry, salty, sandy, windy, hot and cold conditions. Up to six metres tall, it crowds out other plants with its 13-millimetre spines. Thorns can get stuck in cattle hooves, pierce gumboots, and puncture tyres.
‘Lycium’ means ‘thorny shrub’ and ‘ferrocissimum’ means ‘ferocious’. Seabirds can get tangled up in clumps of boxthorn as they land or take off, and quickly die of starvation and exposure. The Department of Conservation is battling boxthorn on the predator-free island Motunau, a place teeming with seabird burrows.
In Taranaki, boxthorn was once in demand. Seeds and seedlings were sold by nurseries and locals, and sheep-proof hedges were planted. Boxthorn honey and boxthorn jam were popular, and boxthorn wood was good firewood. Now, hedges are more likely to be bulldozed and burned.