In a country where harvesting or selling endangered plants without a permit have become a bit of trend, the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment is on a mission to protect trees in South Africa.
Recently the department added four tree species to the list of protected trees in Mzansi. These tree species are Red and Pink Ivory, the Jackal Berry, Manketti, and the Umtiza. Adding them to the protection list means that it is now unlawful to disturb, destroy, export, sell or purchase these tree species.
According to the National Forests Act, the only time when these rules do not apply is when a ministerial license is granted, or an exemption from the provisions is approved by the minister on the advice of her council.
But what makes these trees so special and what is their ecological importance?
Red and Pink Ivory
This evergreen to semi-deciduous tree is mostly found in the northern part of South Africa, in Limpopo.
The Red and Pink Ivory, scientifically known as the Berchemia zeyheri, has ecological importance which stretches from being a delicious fruit sold by locals on the street to generate an income, to being a great food source for wild animals such as baboons, vervet monkeys, bushbabies, and many others.
Reaching up to 15m in height, the Red and Pink Ivory tree is also used to make furniture as well as wooden bows, walking sticks, small boxes and curios.
The Jackal Berry
Believe it or not, but this beauty can live for more than 200 years. Also known as Diospyros mespiliformis, this tree has an important role in the ecosystem.
The Jackal Berry has a fantastic mutualism and symbiotic network with many living organisms, from human beings to small insects. There are an array of insects such as bees and wasps who play a role in pollinating the flowers. Furthermore, the seeds are dispersed either through wash-off by rain or in the droppings of animals that feed on the fruits.
Ripe fruits are adored by indigenous people, especially by children. Fruits are eaten fresh or dried and fun fact is that baby twigs are sometimes used as toothbrushes.
Who needs store-bought cereal when you have Mankettis in your backyard. No seriously, this tree – that is widespread over southern Africa, and only in a small region in the west of Limpopo near the border – is used by locals to make porridge. They do this by using the dried fruit pulp.
These large trees only bear fruit when they reach 25 years. A mature (female) tree may produce around 950 fruits per annum. The fruit falls, maturing on the ground. Also behind its shell is oily kernel, which is another delicacy.
Elephants eat the fruit, the seed remaining intact in its hard covering for later growth from the dung as “prepared” and dispersed by the elephant.
Kudu’s also eat these fruits but regurgitate them, resulting in similar quality dispersal services to the tree. Local people make porridge of the dried fruit pulp.
Found in a small area of the Eastern Cape, the Umtiza tree is small to medium-sized reaching up to 12m tall.
It is mainly threatened by expansion of human settlements, particularly in the East London area where informal settlements have cleared some of the habitat. Ecologically, the tree has an important role to play. It is pollinated by honey bees, which collect pollen with hairs all over their bodies, transferring pollen from one flower to other as it forages.
Also it is said this tree is traditionally sacred for the Xhosa people, who use it for protection against lightening and evil spirits. They do this by hanging a piece of bark above the door. They also take a piece of stick and use it as healing wand, which is believed to be effective.
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