In South Africa we have a long history of importing trees. Many came to us by accident and I expect many immigrants wanted reminders of home and planted what was familiar in their adopted country. Many very common exotic and alien trees are quite pretty and so prolific that many people are not aware they are not South African.
It could feel unnecessary or even cruel to remove a beautiful large specimen of say, a Jacaranda, Hibiscus or Frangipani so what would justify it?
- Because exotic plants fall outside of their natural environment they often have to be pampered with extra water, fertilizer or sadly sometimes pesticides.
- Plants categorised as aliens go in the opposite direction. They are so comfortable in their new environment they multiply exponentially, crowding out indigenous flora, sucking up water and nutrients from the soil and reducing our biodiversity.
- Exotic/alien trees may offer some food to some bird species but they will never fulfill all the requirements for feeding, breeding, resting and nesting that our indigenous species do.
- Most of our other wildlife rely on our indigenous (native) flora for survival. Some are so fussy that only specific species will do. As aliens march onward crowding out indigenous plants all the life in the eco system in reduced.
- Indigenous trees once established need no further watering or fertilizing. Perfect for the lazy gardener!
- The joy that creating a natural wildlife habitat, rather than a garden planted just for its appearance, is an experience that our whole selves resonate with. It helps us remember that we too are just creatures in this amazingly complex and beautiful world.
Perhaps you’ve been thinking about taking the plunge to convert to or add more indigenous but are a bit overwhelmed by the idea of removal and wonder where to start. You could consider ring barking which will kill the tree off slowly and in the process provide a larder full of insects for birds and other wildlife to enjoy (and you to watch!).
Alternatively get in the professionals. They charge more to remove the stump but I think it’s unnecessary. Stumps don’t take long to become covered in fungi and mushrooms and rot away.
One more tip: when choosing your tree feller ask if they will chip your wood and as a bonus you also acquire a mountain of organic matter to add to your compost heap (and prevent it from going to landfill :-)).
Once you’ve cleared space in your garden you now have the fun of selecting the replacements! I’ve got a list of my favourites for a Durban coastal garden. I’ve put them in a table describing size, fruit, flowers, wild life attracting properties, and what butterflies they may be hosts for. I am delighted to share. Just write a comment and I will mail it to you.
My best tip: get yourself a copy of Bring Nature Back To Your Garden by Charles and Julia Botha. If you want to get closer to nature this fantastic handbook, written without pretension and much humour will be a wise investment!