Spring is around the corner. Not that we in Jo’burg have had a real winter. Yet why focus on the negative when there is so much to be grateful for?

Arbor Week (1-7 September 2019)

I am grateful that the new Minister of The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), Barbara Creecy, has stated her intention to be proactive in responding to the Climate Crisis. In relation to this I was especially pleased to see that she recognises the importance of trees as a part of her response to the climate challenge.

The DAFF Abor Week 2019 campaign focuses “on the country’s champion trees which include some of the oldest, largest and culturally significant trees…” What a wonderful affirmation for JUFA this is. At least this is how I read it.

Reminding South Africans that Arbor Week falls within Heritage month the campaign also calls on us “to plant indigenous trees as a practical symbolic gesture of sustainable environmental management.” Her hope is that the tree-loving community that responds to her campaign will be inclusive. For me this means planting in Alexandra for it is the most tree deprived suburb closest to me. I’ll have to find out if someone wants to work with me on this.

Tree Planting is best response to PSHB

At a meeting I attended recently Anton Moller, a JUFA aligned arborist, stated that massive tree planting is the best response to PSHB. This confirms my intuitive sense which he converted into scientific facts that may be useful in informing a planting strategy for Johannesburg.

The three facts he shared were:

To retain English Plane Trees, one could plant saplings between the currently infested trees. Some might/will develop resistance to PSHB. This is true of other trees as well. He noted though that in Johannesburg the oaks are outside the temperature limits they can thrive in. This suggests that planting new oak trees may be misguided.

White Stinkwood Pretoria Botanical Garden
White Stinkwood Pretoria Botanical Garden

The more biodiversity we have the better chance too of identifying which trees will thrive despite the current infestation by PSHB. This, of course, implies being willing to invest resources into a project that comes with a high rate of loss. Are we willing to do this? Can we afford not to do this?

Trees and grasses are not natural companions. To nurture our existing trees, lawn must give way, at least enough way, to create a mulch bed around each tree.

I am grateful for this brings us closer to a sustainable solution for our urban forest. Yet, there are still layers of information missing. The most significant is the correct identification of ecosystems, including micro-ecosystems. Anton reminded his audience that Jo’burg was a grassland before we imposed our man-made forest onto it. And also, that the best trees to plant for adaptation to climate change are endemic trees. There is a hierarchy of priority: endemic, indigenous, exotic.

Since then and now, much has been done in the background. This includes lists of trees to plant.

Before I share these over the next few weeks I would like to take a step back, for the desire to plant must be informed by a location in which to plant. I know this, for I have made this mistake again and again. I have two trees in my garden waiting to be planted. Their root systems might in fact be compromised for they have been in pots perhaps for far too long. I have others at the seedling stage for which I must find homes…

Pavements, however, are not one of them.

Planting on Pavements

I was wanting to plant a tree on my pavement. The one I had in mind is an exotic fruit tree.

I dropped this idea after a meeting with Marian Laserson, an architect with a special interest in Land Use and Building Laws. (This interest has meant involvement in discussions, battles even, related to environmental conditions as they relate to building. These include aspects such as ground water, rivers, urban wetlands, storm water…)

Neat water wise pavement in Orange Grove
Neat water wise pavement in Orange Grove
Pavement Access blocked
Pavement Access blocked

I wanted her input before I went ahead with my plans to resolve a flooding challenge in my basement. During that conversation I was reminded that pavements are primarily for people; pavements are walkways that prevent accidents.

I accepted that I have no right to interfere with this right to safety for pedestrians.

Marian also maintains that trees should not cause damage to essential infrastructure such as storm water drains, pipes… Oh dear, so many trees do. Must we take these down?

In addition to this, Markus Scheuermaier (JUFA), made me aware of city by-laws which prohibit the removal of public trees except by Jo’burg City Parks officials, or unless the City grants permission. This also means that private individuals may not plant trees on pavements or in public owned land. So many people have done so. Must these be taken down? Transplanted if still young they are?

I have finally accepted that the pavement outside my property belongs to the City. Not to me. (This doesn’t sit well with me for I had plans for a medicine garden. Yet in truth, because the pavement outside my house is rather narrow, I will simply have to leave it alone until I am more informed.)

PSHB Task Team

As for the PSHB beetle, it remains a challenge. Instead of a state of emergency being declared, as I had hoped for, perhaps what would work too is a task team based in DAFF.

I would suggest that its first priority would be to have all municipalities designate and advertise sites for burning infested trees. 

A second, and concurrent priority, would be to provide guidelines for identifying tree planting sites.





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