Dangerous beauty of the Harare tree

Believe Nyakudjara Online Writer
In less than a fortnight, Zimbabwe commemorates the National Tree Planting Day. The day, which is observed during the first Saturday of December of each year, was launched at independence in 1980.

Trees absorb odors and pollutant gases (nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone) and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark.

It marks the start of the tree planting season which runs from the onset of the rainy season right up to the end in April. Every year the country chooses an indigenous tree that is given the status of “Tree of The Year”.

The benefits we as people derive from trees are invaluable.

Excess carbon dioxide (CO2) is building up in our atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

These range from: helping to absorb gases emitted by industry and vehicles, combating climate change, cleaning the air, providing oxygen, cooling the streets and the city, conserving energy and saving water, among an array of other priceless benefits.

Four people escaped unhurt when a gum tree fell on this cabin on Monday

After all, a clean environment begets a healthy people.

While people enjoy the benefits of these trees, especially the jacaranda tree which brings out a spectacular sight in Harare’s Africa Unity Square and Avenues areas, the same trees have become a death trap to the residents who now live in perpetual fear during the rainy season.

On Monday, two men lost their lives in Mbare while two others escaped unhurt after a gigantic cypress tree fell on a parked commuter omnibus in which the quartet had sought sanctuary during a torrential storm.

The latest deaths, bring the weather-related death toll to three after a seven-year-old boy was killed when Komba Primary School in Lupane hit by a storm last week.

The fateful misfortune which occurred around 2pm at Matapi Flats, is just but one of the numerous incidents that have so far been witnessed since the onset of the rain season.

Some residents who thronged the scene of the accident had no kind words for the City Fathers for their lethargy when contacted to take action.

“For us to think that council will come to do anything about these trees is like expecting sunshine midnight. We have been knocking on their doors with our plea to have these trees cut down for they no longer serve the purpose for which they were planted.

“Instead, the trees have become a danger unto us as they perennially destroy our property and infrastructure”, fumed Nomsa Gondo, a Mbare resident.

Six people were seriously injured in October 2011 after a tree fell and trapped vendors who were selling their wares at Mbare Musika.

Last week, over 100 families in Mashonaland Central were left homeless while schools and clinics had their roofs blown off by strong winds accompanying heavy rains that pounded the province.

There have also been numerous incidents in which huge trees were brought down by the violent storm, destroying property and infrastructure worth thousands of dollars.

Trees absorb CO2, removing and storing the carbon while releasing oxygen back into the air. In one year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the same amount of CO2 produced when you drive your car 26,000 miles.

In some instances, the ageing trees, most of which were planted in the early 1900s, have fallen across electricity lines thereby interfering with power supplies.

Several species, such as jacarandas, do not live much beyond a century and, in any case, are more vulnerable to violent storms as they grow older. Council has failed to replenish the trees and replace the aged ones with new plants.

In 2010, Harare City Council embarked on an ambitious tree planting project in the capital, but the planted trees were uprooted, broken or trampled on while the few that had survived failed to receive due attention and protection.

According to an online publication 7D News, six jacaranda mimosifolia seedlings are believed to have been brought into Zimbabwe from another jacaranda haven, Cape Town in 1899.

Jacaranda mimosifolia (Common name – Blue jacaranda) is the species known in Zimbabwe but they certainly don’t look like they have blue flowers – purple, lilac or mauve is more like it! But, there is also a variant of the Jacaranda mimosifolia or perhaps it’s the Jacaranda mimosifolia ‘Alba’ which has white flowers.

It is believed that these “alien” trees originated from Brazil and were first planted in Harare.

“It was once said that even though Brazilians didn’t invent football they are the best at it. The same can be said of the beautiful jacaranda tree, even though it is originally from Brazil, Zimbabwe does it best.

“The first jacaranda owes its existence to Arthur Holland’s courtship of Madeline Orpen, the daughter of the Surveyor General. On a visit to Durban in 1899, he returned with some seeds and planted the in Miss Orpen’s garden. From there they were propagated and planted out in the city’s streets. The first jacaranda was identified as being in the garden of the house at the corner of Josiah Chinamano Avenue and Blakiston Street, which has since been redeveloped into Jacaranda Mews. The tree has since died,” writes Jonathan Waters.

Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, is painted purple when the tree is in bloom from August to November. Its gift is the unique natural beauty it brings to the city, its curse, the dangers of the tree’s short lifespan and the pollen allergies that can plague people.

Due to the country’s economic hardships, removing old jacarandas are at the bottom of the list for local authorities, which are currently struggling with service delivery.

“The Jacaranda was extensively planted in the country, particularly in Harare, the capital. Jacarandas were planted in Harare Gardens, one of Zimbabwe’s largest urban parks, in the shape of the British Union Jack flag. The trees quickly spread their beauty across the city,” wrote 7D News.

“The reason why the jacaranda trees have survived this long is because they don’t produce fruit, they disperse pods after they bloom and this protects them from the damage involved in harvesting fruit. The second reason is that jacarandas trees don’t make the best firewood, so this protects them from being felled. This said, it doesn’t mean they are not under threat,” Forester Alois Mabutho told 7D News last year.

“The Rhodesians who planted them knew their beauty and were doing it for future generations. They were definitely way ahead of their time, planting flamboyant trees next to the jacarandas. There is nowhere else on the continent where you see these beauties laid out like this. There is a need for urban renewal not only to preserve but to also plant more trees for future generations,” he continued.

Harare city council had plans to replace the exotic trees because of their short lifespan–they are a potential hazard to the public when they fall.

There have also been numerous incidents in which huge trees were brought down by the violent storm, destroying property and infrastructure worth thousands of dollars.

Electricity and telephone lines get entangled in the trees and since trees are planted along the road when they fall, they block the road. Due to the country’s economic hardship, removing jacarandas are at the bottom of the list for local authorities, which are currently struggling with problems in delivering water supply and the cholera outbreak.

According to 7D News, another downside to the popular jacaranda is that some people are allergic to its pollen, which can cause headaches, sneezing, itchy eyes and influenza-like symptoms.

Those who are allergic have to endure three months of discomfort whilst the jacaranda is in bloom.

Despite the colourful, refreshing scenery and aesthetic value brought by these blossoming jacaranda trees along Sam Njoma Avenue in Harare, beautifying the city and its surroundings, the giant trees now need replacement to avoid accidents when they fall on property and people due to ageing. – Pictures: Believe Nyakudjara

“Jacarandas do look nice but I’m allergic to the pollen, more so when they are practically everywhere in the suburb I live in. I usually stock up on antihistamines when the dreaded flowering season starts. The pollen makes me sneeze continually and my eyes itch really bad, but when I see that purple splendour it’s worth it,” says Jennifer Murwira, a resident in Harare’s Mabelreign suburb was quoted by 7D News last year.