EASTERN NEWS | Mystery plant ravages Manicaland

Source: EASTERN NEWS | Mystery plant ravages Manicaland – DailyNews Live

Bernard Chiketo      10 May 2018

MUTARE – Like the stealth invader that it is, a mysterious invasive plant
that first appeared in Chimanimani at the turn of the millennium is taking
over the Eastern Highlands.

Taking over thousands of hectares, the plant, which is now ubiquitous from
Chipinge right through Chimanimani, Burma Valley, Vumba up to Nyanga, is
now creeping all over Manicaland with Mutare and Rusape also now affected.

The mysterious invader is suspected to have been carried across the
mountains from Mozambique by Cyclone Eline which hit the country in 2000.

Oblivious to its colonising of whole landscapes no one – from government
to private property owners – is putting up a fight against the entrenching
plant that was first observed more than 17 years ago.

Where it has taken root, the plant has aggressively spread to even deny
animals passage through its thickets.

Villagers in Chimanimani – where it was first sighted – have tried
machetes and hoes to clear the weed, while commercial timber plantations
belonging to Border Timbers and Allied Timbers have doused it with
chemicals and tried to root it out, all without success.

People in Rusitu Valley and Chikukwa communal areas have named it
“Cyclone” or “Mupese-pese” as it now appears everywhere one turns.

There has not been any government response to it with local Forestry
Commission officials professing ignorance of the problem plant.

Local environmentalists, forestry companies and the national herbarium are
still to formally identify the fast-spreading plant which those that have
tried to contain it feel it’s nearly impossible to control.

However, Bart Wursten – a leading Zimbabwe plant expert – believes the
plant may be vernonanthura phosphorica, a native of Brazil.

It is suspected the plant may have been introduced in neighbouring
Mozambique in the 1990s, to attract bees and produce honey.

In Chikukwa, villagers who have been doing apiculture are already enjoying
its potency in commercial honey production as their yields have boomed and
the quality of their honey improved.

“It has been getting clearer and the yields have been improving,” Phineas
Chikoshana, a Chikukwa Ecological Land Use Community Trust (CELUCT)
official says.

But even then, their celebrations are dampened by the reality of the tree
suffocating all other agricultural activities in the
region.

Beekeepers are just lucky beneficiaries of the horror plant.

In Rusitu Valley, villagers have also complained of their fruit orchards
being suffocated and all areas hitherto reserved for pastures being
completely colonised by the plant.

Efforts to get comment from Timber Producers’ Federation (TPF) were
fruitless by the time of going to print.

TPF, a body representing timber producers in the country, has been leading
efforts to have the plant formally identified and solutions sought to
control it as it has been choking forest plantations across the eastern
highlands.

TPF previously said they had not had any success at controlling the plant.

Without any public notices or awareness programmes, the plant has now
escaped to areas where locals are completely oblivious of its effects.

In Biriiri, a relatively arid area, villagers who were interviewed by the
Eastern News professed complete ignorance of the plant.

Mutare’s Chikanga suburb, which has a significant amount of the plant, is
also completely ignorant of the plant.

None of the high density suburb’s residents could even take notice that
there is a new plant in their area.

In Mutasa, the same ignorance prevails.

William Chatigu, Kwayedza Lodge proprietor in the lower Vumba, confessed
he was learning of the plant for the first time and had been tolerating it
on his property.

“I didn’t know about it and I’ll share this information with my colleagues
in the area so that we try to contain it before it goes out of hand,”
Chatigu said.

Further in Rusape and Makoni districts ignorance of the plant continues to
give it free reign to multiply as it eats further and further into
Zimbabwe.

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