Plant xenophobia

As the fire along the coast continues to rage unabated, and with the wind threatening to turn over the weekend and potentially push it back towards the Southern Tip, Margaret et al. have now turned their attention towards the vegetation which is providing fuel for the fire.

It’s well known that some invasive species can burn at hotter temperatures than our local fynbos – which incidentally needs to burn every 15 years or so to survive – and may therefore be partly responsible for the speed and the spread of some fires. And that’s clearly not good.

But there does seem to be some issue with the glossary of terms being used here.

“Dense, inaccessible vegetation”, in which the fire is currently burning does not mean “invasive vegetation”. It just means there’s a lot of vegetation and the firefighters can’t get to it.

The Margarets on the group don’t seem to get that. Apparently, if it’s burning, it must be invasive and someone needs to be prosecuted.

Nor do the terms “alien” and “invasive” the same thing. Alien species are ones that have been introduced to this country from somewhere else. You might also see them described as “exotic”, “non-native” or “non-indigenous”.
We’re supposed to frown upon this sort of thing these days, and so we do.
But what we don’t have to do with alien plants is pull them up remove them simply because they came from somewhere else. I mean, if it’s on your property, you can do that, but you don’t have to.

I recognise that applying this logic to actual humans is a vote-winning policy with some South African political parties, but they are fairly repulsive, and there’s no need to take it out on plants as well.

Unless they are invasive.

Invasive species are ones which expand into and modify ecosystems into which they are been introduced.
This is a really bad thing, and there is legislation to cover this, which quite often does require them to be pulled up and removed.

I fully support this by buying invasive wood to burn on my braai. It’s just one (additional) way I like to help. But while I do my bit, my neighbours just up the road are actively growing a Rooikrans hedge. Maybe they just like to live dangerously.

Apparently, the municipality are coming to town today “to do an inspection” on who’s got what plants on their properties. This is laughable for several reasons. First of all, it’s far too late to do anything about getting rid of invasives ahead of the wind changing direction on Sunday and blowing the fire our way again. Where were the council 3, 6, 12 or 24 months ago?

Secondly, it’s sheer pandering towards concerned residents who will be looking for any scapegoat should there be any fire issues in the village. And lookie here: just before an election, as well.

Who ever would have thought?

And then thirdly, there’s the fact that the areas managed or controlled by two biggest landowners in the vicinity: the municipality and the Agulhas National Park, are both absolutely chock full of invasive – and high fire risk – vegetation. But woe betide you if you have a Rooikrans hedge in your garden.

Actually, no: I’d fully support them on taking that one out.

The worry is that the village is a bit lentil curtainy when it comes to this sort of thing. There are enough militant old hippies living there to go out and just chop for the sake of chopping. I’ve cleared our place of all the invasives, but I do have a shrub on my property which is alien (don’t shoot me, Rupert), but which isn’t invasive and which doesn’t pose a fire risk. But with all the convenient mix up over nomenclature, I half expect it to be gone via a vigilante chainsaw when we next go back.

I will not be happy, but I will know pretty much exactly whose door to knock on.

Let’s hope we don’t have to cross the bridge of the knocking on the door scenario, and let’s hope even more that the current fire is extinguished quickly and safely, with no more damage to the environment or anyone’s property. Or my plant.