garden tree

Planting the Right Trees, in the Right Places, for the Right Reasons

Planting and utilising trees for people’s survival needs has been a part of human culture for thousands of years, but in the relatively recent past, about 30-40 years, tree-planting seems to have become something of a cult. This has been driven by a number of factors including the perception or belief that planting trees will somehow save people from having to pay for their environmental sins, especially the wasteful consumption of limited natural resources, pollution of the air, soil and water; and the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and climate change.

Tree Cultivation (Siviculture)
Historically, trees have been grown and used sustainably by people for various purposes; either through cultivating them as a source of useful products such as edible fruits and nuts, medicine; and timber for construction, fuel and furniture; or by using them as living screens for protection against bad weather or intruding animals. In many cultures trees are virtually synonymous with peoples’ homes, food and livelihoods.

Over centuries Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in forested regions acquired comprehensive knowledge of the trees and forests that provided them with so many useful things, and this knowledge together with the skills that enabled people to utilise trees and forests in a sustainable way, became known as the art or science of ‘forestry’. People used only as much as they needed, and the natural regrowth of trees ensured that forests were also able to replace themselves and thus maintain their provision of ecological services, such as climate regulation, and producing clean air and water.

Tree Destruction (Deforestation)
People have also been destroying trees (and forests) as part of so-called ‘development’. Traditionally this has been done in order to clear land for farming, or to obtain timber for building homes or making furniture and other useful items like boats and weapons. Over time, new industrial technology in the form of chainsaws, explosives and bulldozers made it possible for people to access and to destroy far greater areas of forest with far less effort and at a far lower monetary cost. Thus began the era of large-scale forest destruction and wasteful consumption that we are living in today.

Agroforestry and Permaculture
While the Permaculture model represents going back to traditional small-scale farming that integrates indigenous or fruit trees with crop and livestock production for local consumption, ‘agroforestry’ is now being pushed as another type of intensive industrial agriculture that is focussed on the large scale production of agricultural commodities for export markets. Agroforestry mainly encourages farmers in developing countries to plant alien tree species that can produce industrial commodities. Such alien trees are often invasive and can spread into natural vegetation and grazing land. Some examples of invasive trees that have been falsely promoted for planting as fodder or fuel are Leucaena leucocephala and Eucalyptus species.

Monoculture Tree Plantations
As people became increasingly addicted to the availability of cheap disposable products made from trees, such as toilet tissue and paper packaging, the world started to turn to tree plantations as a source of industrial wood. In many countries, these were established in areas where forests had already been destroyed, but this soon led to the deliberate destruction of old-growth forests to clear land for timber plantations. In South Africa, the national government and multi-national corporations like Sappi and Mondi established large-scale monoculture tree plantations on valuable natural grassland or farmland. This was to produce raw material to make cheap wood-pulp or paper products for export to industrialised countries.

Deciding if Planting Trees is Necessary
Planting trees should be in response to a real local need, not because of external pressure that has been created through the abuse and destruction of natural resources in other countries. An example of this is the way polluting industrialised countries such as Norway expect people in poor developing countries in Africa to plant trees, in order to offset the carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions produced in the North. However there are many good reasons for planting trees, especially if it is to restore previously damaged or destroyed forests, or to provide food, fuel, furniture and fodder; as well as giving protection to people and animals from strong winds and harsh sunlight.

Choosing the Right Trees to Plant
Wherever possible, only locally indigenous trees or non-invasive exotic fruit trees should be planted. Planted trees should complement the natural environment and existing food farming activities, not damage or destroy natural vegetation, especially grassland, or impact negatively on water or soil resources. It is very important to research which trees are best for a particular purpose, and to know what their requirements are in terms of space, water and general climatic conditions. Just as important is to know what purpose the tree needs to serve, in terms of how it will benefit the local wildlife and people where it is planted; besides how it might contribute to protecting the world from climate change. Sadly there are many more trees being destroyed in the name of the consumption-driven global economy than are being planted, and a planted tree can take up to 100 years to reach the same point as a forest giant being cut down in order to make throw-away items for wasteful consumers. Remember too that many of the trees you plant could outlive your generation, and provide pleasure and value to people who are yet to be born, just as we take pride and pleasure from magnificent old, large specimens that started out their lives long before we were born.

Criteria for Choosing the Right Trees
As a rough guide to making your selection, use the ‘Five Fs’ to help you choose a tree:

The shape, height and spread of a tree when fully grown is a most important consideration especially when space is limited or if you are planting near to buildings. Every tree has a particular form that can lend itself to growing in a specific position, and for a specific purpose; like building a tree-house, or serving as a good climbing tree.

Evergreen trees can provide effective screening to hide unsightly buildings or to block the view of a busy road. The dense foliage of conifers like the Yellow-woods can also help absorb noise and pollution from traffic and industrial activities. Densely planted rows of trees also make an effective barrier against wind, which also allows the planting of more delicate species, like fruit bearing trees, in the area that is sheltered.

The foliage (leaves) of a tree is the equivalent of our skin and lungs, enabling them to breathe, while at the same time photosynthesising (to manufacture with the sun’s help) the chemicals that the tree uses to grow, and to produce its fruit. Evergreen foliage provides deep, cool shade all year round in warmer areas, while deciduous trees give shade only when it is most needed in the hot summer months, but allow sunlight through in the cold winter months when they are dormant (without leaves).

Flowers are the reproductive organs of trees that enable them to produce the seeds that are vital to the survival of their species. Most people admire trees that have pretty, colourful or sweetly-scented flowers; however flowers are also an important source of food to wildlife, especially nectar-feeding birds and insects such as the honey-bee! Tree flowers are used in Homeopathy and Ayurvedic medicine for the preparation of valuable natural remedies for ill-health and mental conditions.

Imagine a world without the hundreds of kinds of delicious fruits and nuts that provide healthy food to billions of people over the planet. Different fruit-bearing trees have evolved to be able to grow in different conditions; from freezing winters to sweltering tropical climes. The domesticated fruit trees have also been bred by selection and hybridisation to enhance the size and flavour of their fruits, as well as to extend the fruiting period for the benefit of people. However we must remember that all of these varieties originally came from wild species, and we also have a responsibility to make sure that the natural species are grown and preserved for the benefit of future generations. Remember too that wild fruits are one of the natural sources of nutrients that our wildlife needs to survive.

Wally Menne –                  Timberwatch –


La Push and the Hoh Rainforest

My wife and I have been travelling in the USA checking out some of the incredible national and state parks along the Pacific Coast. We visited La Push, the westernmost ZIP Code in the Contiguous United States and to some really dramatic nature.  The name La Push is an infusion of the French la bouche, meaning “mouth”, into Chinook Jargon. We had sundowners on the beach and went for an early morning trail run in the coastal forests. Great fun!

We then headed for Portland, taking in the Hoh Rainforest in the Olypmic National Park. The dominant species in the rainforest are Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla); some grow to tremendous size, reaching 95 metres (312 ft) in height and 7 metres (23 ft) in diameter. Coast Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii), western redcedar (Thuja plicata), bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), red alder (Alnus rubra), vine maple (Acer circinatum), and black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) are also found throughout the forest. Many unique mosses and lichens are also present in the rainforest, such as lettuce lichen (Lobaria oregana), which “requires the cool, moist conditions found under the canopy of old-growth forests” and is consumed by deer, elk, and other animals. An amazing place!


Minister declares indigenous trees “champion trees”

Calliandra_emarginata_-_Pink_Powderpuff_-_desc-whole_treeAgriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has declared three indigenous trees “champion trees”.

During every Arbor Week, which is celebrated annually from 1 to 7 September, two or three trees are placed under protection. The trees are selected from commonly found trees species and rare tree species.

Barringtonia racemosa, which is commonly known as Powder-puff tree in English, poeierkwasboom in Afrikaans and iBhoqo in isiZulu; Grewia occidentalis, which is commonly known as Cross-berry in English, kruisbessie in Afrikaans, Mokukutu in Setswana, Mogwane in Sepedi and Ilalanyathi in isiZulu and Virgilia oroboides, which is commonly known as Common wild elder, blossom tree in English and keurboom in Afrikaans have been declared protected trees.

Ministerial spokesperson Palesa Mokomele said the minister’s declaration means that the trees are now protected and that no person may cut, disturb, damage or destroy any of them or possess, collect, remove, transport, export or purchase.

Mokomele said the protected trees cannot be sold, donated or in any other manner acquired or dispose of, except under a licence granted by the minister or in terms of an exemption from the provisions of a subsection published by the minister in the Gazette.

She said the contravention of the declaration is regarded as a first category offence that may result in a person, who is found guilty, being sentenced to a fine or imprisonment for a period of up to three years or both a fine and imprisonment.

Speaking during the launch of Arbor Week in Hammarsdale, KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday, Joemat-Pettersson announced that in 2015, eThekwini District Municipality will host the will host the XIV World Forestry Congress.

South Africa was awarded the right to host this congress in 2010. The right was granted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO.

“It will be the first forestry congress held on African soil since its inception in 1926 in Rome. The benefits of this congress for the country are numerous. The focus of this year’s event was the forestry sector’s contribution to food security.”

Minister Joemat-Pettersson thanked Total South Africa for assisting the department with planting 2 000 trees in Hammarsdale; 500 trees from the total number will be planted at local schools as part of their food gardens. Indigenous trees are a heritage to society.

This year, Arbor Week is celebrated under the theme ‘Our Forests – Our Future’. The focus of this year’s Arbor Week is greening of the country for environmental conservation and development. –


Roots to …

Across the road from my office in Cape Town is this awesome tree (some kinda fig, I’d guess) with a massive aerial root structure. More info anyone?


garden tree

Should I stay or should I go?

We have this ficus growing at the top of our bank. My one son feels we should chop it down but I am unsure. Would its root structure not support the bank or could it damage the retaining wall?