Tree-spotting: help root out this invasive plant

Collage - picture of tree of heaven and of its flowers

Have you seen this tree anywhere in our suburb? Then the City would like to hear from you.

It is called the tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) and is particularly invasive, causing extensive ecological and infrastructural damage.

The highest number of trees-of-heaven recorded has been in Newlands, Constantia, Wynberg and Claremont, and the most problematic cases have also occurred in these areas, according to a statement issued by the City’s Mayco member for energy, environmental and special planning, Johan van der Merwe.

The tree-of-heaven has been classified under the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act as Category 1b, meaning that it must be controlled, or removed and destroyed. Any form of trade or planting of this species is strictly prohibited.

The City is now trying to gauge the extent of the invasion across Cape Town.

WHY IS THIS PRETTY TREE SO HARMFUL?

  • It has an aggressive root system that can grow through cracks in sidewalks, gutters and walls, and penetrate underground pipelines. In one case the roots caused a crack in a neighbouring swimming pool.
  • It produces a chemical from its roots known as ailanthone which prevents the growth of other plant species and may result in drastic alterations to natural habitats.
  • Physical contact with the leaves of the tree can lead to skin irritation and, if left untreated, can cause severe itchiness and a persistent rash resulting in much pain and discomfort.

HOW DOES ONE GET RID OF THE TREE?

The tree-of-heaven is capable of resprouting from both root fragments and exposed tree stumps. Juvenile individuals can be removed by hand, but care needs to be taken to ensure that no root fragments are left in the soil.

Treatment of larger trees is a more difficult undertaking and may need professional help.

HOW CAN I HELP?

The City would like you to report any sightings of the tree-of-heaven. You can do so to the City’s Green Jobs Unit: invasive.species@capetown.gov.za.

More information: www.capetowninvasives.org.za or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ctinvasives

Read the full statement.

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