Mysterious plant choking crops

COMMUNITIES here are battling to contain a mysterious plant that is choking other plants and crops as it multiplies so fast.

Emerging after a tropical cyclone that hit the southern African country in 2000, the nameless plant is only being identified by locals in Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands as either Cyclone or Mupesepese — a Shona name for how pervasive it has become.

Government environmental groups and agencies have not been able to identify the plant even after two years since our sister paper the Daily News broke the story about the mysterious weed.

Environmental Management Agency says vegetative issues fall under the ambit of Forestry Commission which through its provincial extension manager, Phillip Tomu who says his organisation had no knowledge of the plant.
With the country’s 53 year-old liberation war party fighting everyone and itself over control of the agriculture dependant nation, the country-side is being lost to the invasive exotic plant.

The fast-growing woody plant is currently spreading almost unhindered throughout the region’s exotic forest plantations that are mainly run by Border Timbers, Allied Timbers and Wattle Company.

Their representative organisation, Timber Producers Federation (TPF), however, said they have been trying to clear the forest weed without success.

“We tried weeding manually and even through use of chemicals but the plant is so persistent,” TPF CEO Darlington Duwa revealed.

“We have sent samples of the plant the National Herbarium through Forestry Commission to have it identified so that we can be able to improve our interventions…it is however, rumoured to have come from neighbouring countries,” Duwa said.

The TPF boss said apart from the plant being potential fuel for any plantation fires as it is reportedly highly flammable; it was also choking other plants and draining nutrients stunting their growth.

“Apart from being fuel in case of fire outbreaks the plant is also suppressing our crops,” Duwa said.
While timber plantations have their delicate crop competing with the rapidly multiplying plant, Chimanimani National Park may soon be the biggest loser.

Poorly managed at the back of a depressed economy and shunned by tourists, the national park that used to pride itself as an Eland sanctuary has a number of other animals worth viewing which are now being choked out.
Reproducing fast through falling seeds, the plant will in time tightly pack the forests that even small animals wouldn’t be able to go through them.

In communal areas villagers are fighting the plant with machetes and hoes as it threatens their agricultural land.
“They try to push back the plant out of their fields. It’s now also very popular as fencing wood particularly as droppers,” Chikoshana said.

“Otherwise huge swaths of land are being lost to the plant as you can see.

“If nothing is done soon crop agriculture is going to suffer irrevocably,” Chikoshana opined.

In Muchadziya, in the Rusitu valley villagers have been battling with the plant for years.

A transactional walk of the nearby Border Timbers’ Tilbury estate and Tarka revealed a runaway dominant plant that is in billions and producing trillions of seeds being pumped into the air to be deposited into the surrounding communal areas.

Having already been allowed to entrench itself Rusitu villagers are doomed — and so is the rest of the eastern highlands.

Local environmentalist, Amos Chiketo places the blame squarely on government’s ineptitude in managing the post cyclone period.

“No effort was made to conduct an ecological audit in the aftermath of the cyclone to pick out any changes as everyone was only preoccupied with the infrastructural damage. This gave the plant space to establish itself,” Chiketo noted.

Chiketo said unless the identity of the plant has been established it was going to be difficult to contain it.
“You cannot consult other countries unless you establish what it is and which region it is native to. The seeds are so small and they could have been carried over thousands of kilometres, even as far off as Madagascar. Every plant is native to some region,” Chiketo said.

Chiketo however, said the plant was clearly invasive because it was “an alien plant that was displaying rapid growth and spread, allowing it to establish over large areas.”

He said this was probably because it was “free from the vast and complex array of natural controls present in its native land, including herbivores, parasites, and diseases.”

“It’s experiencing rapid and unrestricted growth and if it was like this everywhere it grows we would have long had a global outcry,” Chiketo said.

Of concern to the environmentalist was a potential decrease in biodiversity.
“It’s threatening to alter the abundance and diversity of species that are important habitat for native wildlife,”he said.—Bernard Chiketo in CHIMANIMANI

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