The ubiquitous Jacaranda tree is on the verge of being phased out if Zimbabwe adopts South Africa’s recommendation that it be banned.
The tree, which lines many of Harare’s streets, is among 198 ‘dangerous alien’ tree species to have been banned throughout the Southern African region. Its crime? That it stifles the growth of other plant species.
The Jacaranda has been placed in Category Three of banned Invasive Alien Plants. It is said to have health side effects as well as being responsible for destroying plant species in areas where it is grown in large numbers.
According to Shepard Zvigadza of ZERO, a regional NGO, the Invasive Alien Plants are divided into three categories: the first is Invader Alien Plants including the notorious water hyacinth. Category Two includes primary plants of commercial value in forestry and agriculture. These can be grown after obtaining a permit. While the third category, into which Jacarandas fall, can be grown where they already exist. However, no propagating, new planting or trade is permitted.
“It is a difficult tree species to control. In South Africa they have declared it a weed and it may not be planted,” said Zvigadza.
Recently, the City of Harare mooted plans to replace exotic tree species like Flamboyants and Jacarandas with indigenous trees.
Councillor Stewart Musarurwa Mutizwa, of the Health and Environment Department, said the planting of indigenous trees was prompted by the fact that they have a longer life span compared to exotic trees which although predominant in the environs of Harare, can come with health side-effects.
“We will be replacing some of the trees that have seen a life-span of 30 to 40 years. Already we have over 2,000 indigenous tree seedlings at our Hillside nursery waiting to be planted,” said the Councillor.
But some environmentalist says it will do a lot of harm to the city.
Botanist Meg Coates-Palgrave explains that the Jacaranda is part of the long history of Harare and provides good wood for furniture. The iconic Jacaranda is spectacular when in flower but it is difficult to control as the seeds are wind-blown and find their way into the wild.
“Any project to phase out the Jacaranda should be not be done overnight. Imagine what the city will look like. It will be good to grow indigenous trees alongside the Jacarandas, wait until they grow and then phase them out. Their aesthetic value should be cherished,” she implored.
Allain Chimankikire of Mukuvisi Woodlands agrees: “The Jacaranda has become an integral part of the city. You cannot imagine Harare without Jacarandas. It takes years to grow a single indigenous tree. Besides, in a city like Harare you need trees that grow fast and give an aura.”
The Jacaranda Mimosifolia originates from Brazil and the first in Harare is believed to have been grown in 1899 in the garden of what is now 13 Josiah Chinamano Avenue.
Until the 1960s, Harare was known as the “City of Flowering Trees.” The people and their council were very proud of the “jungle” of Jacarandas, Flamboyants and many others that gave colour to the city streets.
The seedlings were planted mostly in the early 1900s in a public works programme when unemployed men were hired for a shilling a day. By the 1920s the saplings were looking good and with another decade the first branches started meeting across the streets, creating those green tunnels that still entrance those who travel these streets.
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