On the morning of Friday the 8th of May, our hardworking volunteers gathered their tools and went out to the Masuwe Concession, in search of an exceptionally invasive alien plant species commonly known as Lantana camara, or Tickberry. These colourful, seemingly harmless flowering shrubs are a species native to the American tropics however, are known as a notorious weed in many countries across the globe. It has been determined that the distribution of Lantana camara indicates a severe threat for the ecosystems in certain areas and may result in the extinction of some indigenous plant species, resulting in a reduction of biodiversity in that specific region. Furthermore, if the plant invades agricultural areas it can cause serious problems as a result of its toxicity to livestock as well as its ability to form dense thickets, which, if left unchecked, can signifcantly, reduce the productivity of farmland. Potentially, this could leave animals in Zimbabwe with a shortage of food and habitats. Lantana camara grows at an extremely rapid rate, which contributes to its widespread growth throughout Southern Africa.
Though the removal of these plants is a rather physical and labour-intensive task, our volunteers were nothing but enthusiastic about getting involved and helping out with the rapidly growing plant problem. In fact, when they heard the term ‘alien plants’, they managed to find a way to make the tedious activity a little more enjoyable for everyone. Two of our volunteers, Yana and Amy, who are quite well known for their quirky antics, had us all flabbergasted when they arrived for the activity painted green and blue from head to toe – we had our own ‘aliens’ removing ‘alien’ plants!
The week before the removal process commenced, a segregation of the team spent some time exploring and surveying the areas around Masuwe where the Lantana camara had spread the most; this was important as we were able to identify which areas needed to be targeted first and could get straight into it on our arrival. Lenard, our volunteer coordinator, led the way by seeking and pointing out the plants for our volunteers to remove. The procedure then began with Yana using a sturdy machete to chop off the branches around the root; from there, the other three volunteers - Amy, Joyce, and Sofia - used garden forks to pry up the roots and eventually pulled them out completely with their hands. We had a great production chain in place and by the time our allocated time came to an end, we had managed to remove a total of 24 Lantana camara plants!
Furthermore and important to note, now that we are approaching winter, there are no seeds on the plant that can spread during the removal process; this makes it the best time of year to conduct this exercise. Although it certainly appeared like we removed a large number of plants, there are still copious amounts of them left around our Masuwe Concession; we will need to continue with our removal process throughout the winter months ahead. Hopefully by the time the warmer months draw near, we will have made enough of a difference to help conserve the native vegetation and protect the surrounding ecosystems.
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