It’s never too late to plant a tree

It’s Spring. The trees herald the change of season by bursting forth with their new foliage, many preceding the soft greens with breathtaking shows of delicate blossoms that produce the fruits and seeds which will be welcomed by man and beast alike in the summer that lies ahead.

It’s an apt time to celebrate Arbor Day, although perhaps not the best time to plant trees, especially in the Cape with the hot, dry Summer months ahead. The beginning of Winter would be far more appropriate as the Winter rains would enable the root system to establish itself before the growth spurt brought on by the rise in temperature.

No doubt many thousands of trees were planted on 7th September by well-meaning people in the grounds of schools, churches, hospitals, clinics, office blocks, parks and along highways and by-ways around the country. How many of them will be given the care and respect that they need to reach maturity?

How many will last long enough to provide homes for birds and beasts in their lofty boughs, or provide us with much sought after protection from the elements all year round?
How many will bear fruit?

Did you plant a tree?
Around the world, over thousands of years, man has impacted on the great forests by felling huge swathes for living space, fuel, building materials and cropland. Mankind is continuing ‘the old, old story’ as told in The Epic of Gilgamesh – the earliest recorded story of what happens when forests are cut down. Rivers silt up, the land turns into desert or scrubland; civilisations succumb to environmental degradation. It happened with the Sumerians in the once ‘Fertile Crescent’ of Mesopotamia, the Greeks and Romans and many other cultures too. It’s happening right now at an ever-increasing pace to match the exponential growth in human populations.

Africa is being hard hit and Thom Hartman, in his book The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight describes what has happened in the West African country, Burkina Faso. Like Lebanon, where magnificent Cedar forests covered 90% of the land in Gilgamesh’s time and where forests were reduced to less that 7% coverage in 1 500 years, this small country has turned into a desert in a generation or so. Burkina Faso has a population explosion. Self-sufficient for tens of thousands of years it now produces only 40% of its food requirements. The thick, impenetrable forests are gone.

Wood is used five times faster that it can grow and one Berquinian farmer was quoted:
“In my father’s time, millet filled all the granaries and the soil was deeper than your body before you reached rock. Now we have to buy food in all but the wettest years and the soil is no deeper than my hand. When we were boys, the forest was all around us, too thick to penetrate. Gradually more and more of it was cleared around the compounds, until one clearing met the next and made the great openness you now see.”

Forty hectares of forest are purported to being cut down every minute of every day. Have we not learnt from the mistakes of past civilisations? Headline news a while back recorded the destruction of hundreds of hectares of forests in Kwa-Zulu Natal. There was discussion of how this would affect the economy.

How will impact on us in other ways? Have you given it a thought? Did you plant a tree, or two, on Arbor Day to ensure our survival into the future? It’s not too late, you know. Get out there and dig a hole. Refer back to previous issues of this magazine for instructions on how to go about it. Choose your tree carefully. Plant it with love. Nurture it into the future.

And if you’re looking for creative, low-cost ideas, here are a few:
• Plant a tree on your birthday.
• Plant one over the festive season, instead of spending your time and money in shopping malls.
• Give trees as gifts to show how much you care.
• Teach other people how to plant and take care of them.
• Save seeds; take cuttings. It will reduce the cost of planting trees. It may take a bit longer, but your patience will be rewarded.
• Plant a tree from a truncheon (small branch) taken from another tree. It takes a shorter time to grow a tree.