Phantom’s eco tip: Turning aliens into friends

Silvery boardwalk

Why are invasive alien plants such a problem?

Apart from displacing the natural flora, and therefore impacting negatively on biodiversity, they also use more water than the better-adapted natural flora. They also intensify wild fires should these occur. Concerted action is called for in order to control the negative impact these invasive alien plants have on our environment.

What is being done?

The major group of offending plant species in southern Africa has been identified, and the Working for Water Programme is active throughout South Africa in clearing alien plant species. Legislation has now been enacted to combat the problem of invasive plant species that threaten the natural flora of the country and, in turn, valuable water resources.

Who are the culprits?

Some of the most widespread offending species are: Acacia mearnsii (Black Wattle), Saligna (Port Jackson Willow), Cyclops (Rooikrantz), Melanoxylon (Blackwood), Lantana camara (Lantana), Chromolaena odorata (Triffid weed), Solanum mauritianum (Bugweed), Hakea sericea (Silky hakea), Pinus pinaster (Cluster pine), and Melia azedarach (Syringa or Persian lilac).

The problem of invasive plants is serious, and requires active public and private participation to combat the growing threat. Agricultural landowners, as well as the gardening public in general, need to familiarise themselves with those species that pose a threat, and then eradicate them. Local hack-groups have formed with the sole purpose of clearing invasive alien plants from public land for the benefit of local communities and their environment.

How Phantom Forest approached the problem.

When Phantom Forest first moved from plan to building back in 1997, the 137-hectare nature reserve was inundated with alien vegetation. With the emphasis firmly placed on the use of sustainable methods of construction, we set about creating an eco-restoration programme. Alien vegetation was cleared by hand, and lovingly transformed into handcrafted flooring, furniture, roofs and boardwalks. Drawing inspiration directly from nature, a harmonious balance was created. We made use of the Pine and Poplars for roofs, decks and supports, while the end-cut ‘wavy’ pine planks found new use as roof shingles. At the time these planks were considered worthless, but now they have new value!

Poplar trees demand a huge water intake in order to survive, and have little commercial value. Farmers in our neighbouring Little Karoo were therefore more than happy to sell us their water-guzzling aliens, which we then debarked and cleaned before turning them into roof beams for thatch and shingle. This timber seems to be unpalatable to bugs, can be used while still green, and gets progressively harder and stronger with each passing year. The perfect example of a win-win situation.

The Phantom Forest Team

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