Lovely Tree, The Jacaranda. Beautiful Plumage...

Category: , , , , , , , By Travis Lyle a.k.a DJ Hedmekanik
The issue of exotic plants frays tempers it seems, whether by cause of people being opposed to their extermination (exotic plants, darling, not people) for nostalgic reasons or being in favour of their extermination on environmental grounds. At the core of the issue is a common misconception that many species of plants are indigenous by default; people assume that because they’ve been part of the landscape forever that they must be African. Tsk, tsk, misguided plant lovers. Best check your facts before locking horns with a well-informed plant fundi at dinner over that lovely glass of Merlot. Things could get messy.

A tree like the lowly wattle does not elicit as much moon-faced sighing as does a specimen such as a jacaranda in full bloom. No wattle-loving protesters with placards for a plant that most recognise as roadside scrub, oh no. No contest, it seems, in the mind of those whose memory lanes are lined with prolific purple blooms. What a pity then, that they, as with the wattle, shall all have to be cut down to size. Lovely tree, the jacaranda. Beautiful plumage. But they’re pining for the Amazon and as such should see the business end of a chainsaw. Every last one of them. The fact is that they don’t belong here, and have few redeeming features. One of these is that they make great perches for strangler figs. Another is that jacaranda wood has a lovely grain and light colour, making it a perfect wood for bowls and sculpture. For those who verlang na die ou dae (afrikaans - 'long for the old days'), it would be best to take a Polaroid before they all go to the big chipboard factory in the sky. Take a deep glug on your G&T, auntie. It’s time for the chipper to sing.

As far as those not-so-lovely wattle trees go, we have a philanthropic eighteenth-century bishop to thank for this Australian plant’s successful invasion of KwaZulu Natal. The story goes that in his magnanimous wisdom, this misguided missionary took it upon himself to provide the locals with firewood. This he achieved by scattering wattle seeds at the roadside while on his meandering ministrations, which covered a substantial part of the province. We now have a handsome crop of wattle, which unfortunately compounds soil erosion problems and thrives in the absence of natural enemies. Makes good firewood, though. But then so do bishops, and you don’t see us allowing them to proliferate, now do you?

The issue of invasive alien plants serves to highlight a general ignorance of the importance of indigenous flora on the part of South Africans. Most of us have the reckoning of a 6-year old when it comes to identifying plants – it’s a shocker, it’s true, but a lot of people when pressed could probably only identify three kinds of plants: Tree. Bush. Grass. Oh, OK – maybe four if you include ‘Cactus’. Typically when looking at plants we tend to be most enamoured with the pretty and the unusual, which in human terms would translate to only having time for supermodels and circus freaks. Which sounds about right when you consider the images that capture our attention in the media. Oh, how fickle we are.

Consider the jacaranda. Lovely tree. Beautiful plumage…

2 comments so far.

  1. Ioannis Petrus August 14, 2007 at 5:23 PM
    What an outstanding essay; I can only aspire to such eloquence. When I return from my speaking engagement (on invasive species), I hope to elaborate on your theme. "Invasive Species Beauty" is my earlier attempt at the site, Invasive Notes, to convey what you have written so poetically. Write on!
  2. hedmekanik August 15, 2007 at 8:48 AM
    Cheers, Ioannis!

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