Tree painting takes bite out of bark stripping

Painting the trunks of trees with a water-based paint renders the bark useless for the muti trade, says Colin Walker, the chairman of the Friends of Constantia Valley Greenbelts.

The Friends of Constantia Valley Greenbelts (FoCVG) has been sponsoring the painting of trees in the area to prevent bark stripping, and this is reaping rewards.

This is according to Colin Walker, the chairman of the volunteer group that cares for nine greenbelts.

Bark stripping is a big problem in Newlands and Cecilia forests as well as all the southern suburbs greenbelts and some parks, he says.

About 20 years ago, the FoCVG and the City’s recreation and parks department started a project to clear invasive species and promote indigenous tree growth.

“At that time, there were about 80 mature Kaapse boekenhout (Cape beech) trees in the Klaasenbosch greenbelt alone,” said Mr Walker, who lives close to this greenbelt.

Kaapse boekenhout (Rapanea melanophloeos), as well as some Cape holly (Ilex mitis), was heavily targeted by bark strippers for muti, he said.

“Many of the larger trees of this species have died as they don’t tolerate any extensive degree of bark stripping. The only way to save these trees was, and is, by painting the bark with a water-based paint that renders the bark useless for the muti trade.”

And clearing invasive vegetation, particularly poplars, allowed the natural seed bank to supply new saplings of indigenous tree species that could grow because they had more light and space, he said.

“In the case of Klaassenbosch, we have been particularly successful with this strategy. Now, 20 years later, boekenhout trees in this greenbelt have multiplied ten-fold.”

Mr Walker said all the work – including painting the trees – had been done under the auspices of Fay Howa, the environmental manager from the City’s recreation and parks department. The work is sponsored by the FoCVGB and undertaken by a team paid for by the Friends.

Mayoral committee member for community services and health Patricia van der Ross said that although bark stripping occasionally happened in Constantia, there were far fewer incidents than ten years ago. Affected trees had been found in most of the Constantia greenbelts as well as the De Hel conservation area.

Ms Van der Ross said the trees were targeted for their bark and roots, collected for medicinal or cultural reasons.

Trees that are mostly affected are camphor trees (Cinnamomum camphora), fever trees (Vachellia xanthophloea) and Norfolk pines (Araucaria columnaris).

Ms Van der Ross said the City no longer planted camphor trees because they were an invasive species.

When the bark was stripped from the entire circumference of a tree, also referred to as ring-barking, the tree died a slow death due to the interruption of its nutritional transport systems, but bark stripping did not kill all trees, said Ms Van der Ross.

“Some may survive if not fully ring barked, but it damages the tree to such an extent that it inhibits the growth and weakens the tree, making it more susceptible to stressors such as drought and disease. Others may re-sprout quickly from under-ringbarking wounds and survive,” she said.

Some people had been apprehended while in the process of removing bark, she said.

Suspicious activity observed in the Constantia greenbelts can be reported to City law enforcement at 021 480 7700, or email RP.enquiries@capetown.gov.za. For more information about the FoCVGB, email jamesforsyth@mweb.co.za.

Regrowth from a camphor tree after bark stripping.
Trees have been cut down as part of the ongoing invasive clearing process to promote indigenous tree diversification.