Asking yourself what trees you would like to plant is as important as finding out what trees we as local communities should prioritise in our urban reforestation efforts. Sometimes there is an overlap between the two. Yet I do not take this for granted. Nor do I consider it the only way in which to approach this important contribution to sustainability.
This is because biodiversity is vital for building resilience in urban spaces.
In addition, being drawn to particular types of trees makes it more likely that you will care for them. And more likely too that you will draw benefit from the trees you plant.
Identifying a tree planting site and then deciding what trees suit that space and its purposes is the first step one could take. Certainly Jo’burg City Parks is expected to do this. Despite this, its choices are limited to the trees that their tree suppliers have chosen to grow.
I am suggesting something different for property owners have greater choices. For example, on my small property I have a young palm tree. It has taken me a year to decide to add Soap bush (Noltea africana) and River indigo (Indigofera jucunda) to my urban food forest. My reasons are that, in addition to having a certain daintiness, they do well in wetlands and semi-shade and their roots won’t damage walls or pipes.
Five fun ways in which to discern your preferences:
1. Observe trees while travelling by road, railway or waterway
Since becoming aware of the PSHB infestation I have taken note of the trees growing on pavements. And on traffic islands, outside business premises, peeping or towering over boundary walls.
Recently I drove along Rivonia Road, from Morningside to Rosebank. There are some new plantings to compliment the old. A touch of plant diversity that attract the eye and soothe nerves in busy spaces. And space for more trees to join them.
I have noticed when travelling on Gautrain that there isn’t much to offer by way of interesting trees. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to change this?
Sadly, I haven’t been on a boat recently. I do, however, have precious memories of forests growing along waterways. And of the tranquillity that trees growing along rivers bring to me. And from my youth memories of willows drooping into waters beneath.
2. Take note of trees in neighbouring gardens
This is especially helpful when wanting to work out what exotics, especially fruit trees do well.
I have recently taken walks along the streets of Orange Grove. And Norwood. And Houghton. And Oaklands. And Rosebank. I am particularly fond of a majestic oak tree opposite Mandela’s house. What it has that the other oaks don’t is water. As the border of plants and the grass get watered by a zealous resident, so does the oak. It appears to be PSHB free. And the termites haven’t done much damage to it yet.
I am not sure that oaks will grow here again. Yet who knows. Perhaps in specific micro-climates some can. And designing micro-climates is possible if one knows how:
3. Visit a tree nursery
Random Harvest is my favourite nursery. I am not always sure whether it is the trees that draw me or the delicious food on offer.
Besides a wide range of indigenous trees to purchase, Random Harvest has magnificent heritage trees to admire, to touch, to smell and to sit under. This is also a useful option if you want information on whether the trees you like are PSHB reproductive hosts or non-reproductive hosts. And whether they will do well where you want to plant them.
However, Random Harvest might be too far for you to go. In this case, your local nursery might be a good place to start. The Garden Centre at Sylvia’s Market is where I like to pop in every now and then to see what’s in stock.
4. Take a walk in a Park or Municipal Nature Reserve
Patterson Park has some lovely old timers. It has some newcomers too which in time will add to the overall tree cover. Unfortunately it is out of bounds still.
Emmarentia Dam as more, including Portuguese cork trees, believe it or not.
Delta Park has brooding spaces under dark conifers. And areas that have the feel of fairies. And a outdoor classroom/dining area under a treed canopy– close to where Wangari Maathai planted a tree for us.
The Wilds, Kloofendal, Melville Koppies, Rietfontein and Klipriviersberg offer a wide range of micro-climates with plant guilds to enjoy and learn from.
Besides these there are many other lovely parks and nature reserves that no doubt have much to offer by way of discerning which trees you particularly like and would take care of.
5. Visit a Botanical Garden
I had hoped that SANBI (The South African Biodiversity Institute) would have been able to provide me with a list of trees that are deemed save enough to plant for the last thing we need is to provide more food for the borer beetle to chow on. Unfortunately, the person I wished to see was on leave. I only found this out when I visited its Pretoria offices yesterday.
Nonetheless, it was a worthwhile trip for I spent time at the Pretoria Botanical Garden. It is beautiful and very well maintained.
I shall certainly be making my way back there to explore the arboretum. Since it claims to have 500 indigenous trees on site, it is well worth the trip from Johannesburg.
What makes this botanical garden especially attractive to me though are the micro-climates that can be experienced within it.
While these suggestions are just five possibilities amongst many, I hope I have whetted your appetite for planting a diversity of trees. And for getting outdoors!
However, please be aware that some of the trees I have mentioned are PSHB hosts. How fortunate we are to be able to appreciate these still.Nonetheless, when it comes to planting new trees you would have to give careful consideration to the consequences of your choices.
Happy tree hunting!
And tree planting this coming September.
Sources and Resources