Plant a tree for the future

2016-09-21 06:00

ALTHOUGH the first Arbor Day took place well over 100 years ago in 1872 in the U.S. South Africa first celebrated the day only in September 1983 and millions of trees have been planted throughout the world since then.
The day came about when tree lover, a Mr J. Sterling Morton, went to live on the treeless plains of Nebraska. He persuaded the local agricultural board to set aside a day for planting trees and as editor of Nebraska's first newspaper, encouraged participation in the event by publishing articles on the value of trees for soil protection, fruit, shade and building.

Mr Morton's home, known as Arbor Lodge, was testament to his love of trees and so inspired the name of the holiday - Arbor Day.

In South Africa, the first Arbor Day captured the imagination of people who recognised the need for raising awareness of the value of trees in our society. As sources of building material, food, medicine, and simple scenic beauty, trees play a vital role in the health and the well-being of communities.

Collective enthusiasm for the importance of this issue in South Africa inspired the national government, in 1999, to extend the celebration of Arbor Day to National Arbor Week.

From 1 to 7 September every year, schools, businesses and organisations are encouraged to participate in community "greening" events to improve the health and beauty of the local environment and propose a green future for South Africa.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as the custodian of forestry in South Africa, highlights two specific trees (one common and one rare species) every year during Arbor Week to help increase public awareness of the 2000 indigenous tree species in South Africa­.

The 2016 common tree is Ficus thonningii, also known as

Common wild fig (English); Gewone wildevy (Afrikaans.); Umbombe (Zulu.), Uthombe (Xhosa).

The rare tree is M. angolensis, also known as the Bead Bean tree, Umgodithi or Knoppiesboonjhieboom, and is a semi-deciduous to deciduous tree of about 15m with a spreading, untidy canopy, grooved and grey-brown bark in older trees and is smooth and grey young branches

Ficus thonningii is extensively used in African ethno medicine for treating a number of disease conditions, including diarrhoea, urinary tract infections, diabetes mellitus, gonorrhoea, respiratory infections and mental illnesses.

The powdered leaves of the Bead Bean tree are used as a fish poison and to treat anorexia and asthenia, while bark extracts and pulped leaves are used to promote the healing of wounds.

Decoctions of the leaves are given to children suffering jaundice, and to treat rheumatism, stomach ache, epilepsy and diarrhoea, while decoctions of the bark are used to treat malaria and as an aphrodisiac.

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