Reading this headline in one of the local neighborhood newspapers, you would think a) South Africans are confused and think that District 9 was real life and that the country has been invaded by aliens, or b) these S’Africans aren’t too fond of foreigners.
Unfortunately, there is some evidence that the latter is true, however this article wasn’t referring to gross creatures from another planet or those of us without SA ID cards, but rather another kind of ‘invasive alien’ altogether: trees. Anti-alien sentiment seems to have reached some sort of a fever-pitch here, and ‘clearing drives’ like this one are common. Nearly everyone who has visited our house has commented on the mulberry tree in our neighbor’s yard which is growing over the fence – apparently they’re nasty, weed-like trees that drop seeds everywhere and take over, but apparently we’d be well within our rights to turn in the neighbors for harboring an alien plant species. One family member (who shall remain nameless in case we ever befriend the neighbor and they read my blog…unlikely) even suggested we tap the tree with an ‘eco-plug’, a small device that you stick into alien trees that poisons them. While this kind of ‘eco-crusading’ seems pretty crazy to me I guess, now that I think about it, I have heard about the plants and animals brought from one lake to another in Minnesota that start breeding like mad and choking off the natural plant and animal life, so I guess this is the same. Apparently a major concern here in SA is also the strain on limited water supplies. As hard as it is to believe in the middle of a rainy Cape Town winter that there is ever any water shortage, when the dry summer wind comes around you remember that water isn’t as abundant as we think it is. Non-native plants like pine trees are apparently thirsty little buggers.
I’m not a botanist, to say the least (let’s just say I’ve been laughed often for not knowing the difference between a weed and a flower). Lucky for me the SA government has taken the time to catalog and post pictures of all the invasive alient plants (IAP) and the different categories they fall into (Remove and Destroy, Need a permit, or No planting, no selling). Ridding the country if IAPs is big business, with 23000 people employed every year to remove them. I also learned that if I want to report the presence of invasive aliens I can contact the City of Cape Town email@example.com. If you’re caught by the Weed Inspector (actual title), the penalty can be as severe as two years in jail and/or R10,000 fine (almost $1500).
Who knew? Now I’m just hoping that people remember we’re talking about plants here and not aliens like me…I’d hate to be uprooted.