The importance of trees

2015-09-30 06:00
Botanist, Pieter du Plessis, with an Australian Eucaluptus tree at Umbogavango Nature Reserve in Umbogintwini.
 Photo: Tania Sandberg

Botanist, Pieter du Plessis, with an Australian Eucaluptus tree at Umbogavango Nature Reserve in Umbogintwini. Photo: Tania Sandberg

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LAST week saw the start of the government’s controversial programme to cut down 45 000 hectares of Knysna’s Yellowwood forests­. “This forms part of a government initiative to privatise the forest industry and cut down natural forests in favour­ of exotic trees that grow faster,” concerned botanist, Pieter du Plessis, told the Amanzimtoti Probus Club on Friday.

Du Plessis says the government plans to replace the forests with Eucalyptus­ plantations. “A Eucalyptus tree takes 12 years to grow, unlike the hardy Yellowwood, which takes many more years to grow. “The wood of the Eucalyptus is too soft to make furniture, not to mention the thousands of jobs that will be lost in this industry,” said Du Plessis.

He told the meeting the history of Shaka and how a tree saved his tribe and subsequently a whole nation from extinction. He said the oldest tree in history is a redwood in California, which grew to be 7 000 years old. The tallest tree in history was a Eucalyptus which grew 433 feet (132 metres). The tree with the deepest roots was measured at the Echo Caves in Limpopo and reached 400 feet (122 metres) deep.

This explains Du Plessis’s statement that trees are the same size below the ground as they are above. Another theory the botanist explained is that trees get their moisture from the air, rather than from their roots., but it is a fallacy that trees use too much underground water.

“Roots are important to stabilise soil, especially slow growers like Yellowwoods, which stop soil erosion.”

A single 30-meter-tall mature tree can absorb as much as 22.7 kilograms (50 pounds) of carbon dioxide in a year, which over it’s lifetime is approximately the same amount as would be produced by an average car being driven 41,500 kilometers (25,787 miles). The same tree could also produce 2,721 kilograms (5,998.78 pounds) of oxygen in a year. Du Plessis said Durban and coastal towns are particularly susceptible to carbon dioxide toxicity due to the warm water currents, which leads to high volumes of condensation and pushes up the carbon monoxide levels. He said for this reason, environmental lobby groups have called on refineries to move their operations to inland areas such as Hillcrest, where there is ample forestation to absorb and transform carbon dioxide, but unsuccessfully.

Growing trees around your house can cool temperatures down significantly, constituting up to a 32% saving in electricity when this method of cooling is used instead of air conditioning.

“Trees also act as a buffer against noise, and records indicate that houses with trees sell for a higher price - up to 32% more.” Du Plessis encouraged Probus members to plant trees and donated Yellowwood seeds to members. He said the seeds need not be planted, but simply covered with sand. Plastic piping can be placed around young, growing trees to prevent damage when the grass is being cut. He said it will take approximately seven years for a Yellowwood to grow to waist height

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