Prickly intruders

They grow everywhere – in gardens, along the sidewalk, on fallow land and on slopes and they’re taking over our living space. In Namibia there are 287 known invader cacti species, and these two women from Windhoek are taking on the fight.

18 August 2019 | Environment

Windhoek • Theresa Lang



Gunhild Voigts carries gardening tools with her wherever she goes. Peek in her car and you will find rakes, saws and axes. While driving around with her she tells me, “here we cleared the whole slope” or, “this whole area was overgrown with cacti,” while waiving her hand out of the car window.

She’s in the backseat, giving directions. Her husband is behind the wheel, while the co-driver seat is reserved for interested guests.

Gunhild has already taken government officials and sceptical land owners on this same special tour. At a walking pace, the car rolls through the streets of Windhoek. However, on this trip the well-known Tintinpalast and the Christuskirche are not included. No, this time visitors see Windhoek from the perspective of a passionate conservationist.

Gunhild – slim, tall, with snow-white hair – loves sharing her successes: Clean, cactus-free front yards and large piles of cleared cacti on the roadside. “Actually, we were hoping to compost the cacti, but it’s too dry this year,” she says.

Just as the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) calls for cleaning operations in the botanical gardens, Voigts does the same with her Cactus Clean-Up Initiative, only she and her team remove these spindly plants and other intruders from Windhoek’s sidewalks. In the city, she does so at the request of the municipality. For private property owners, she provides reliable and experienced workers who free the garden of cacti at a fee.

Despite her success, there is still a lot that needs to be done. Again and again, our tour takes us past “cactus-contaminated” land, as Voigts calls these areas. “We do not want to leave no vegetation for the next generation.”

She can name any tree on the roadside – sometimes with a bitter aftertaste. “Just look, everything is covered by eucalyptus,” she says, shaking her head. “Eucalyptus is actually used to dry out swamps because the plants extract so much water from of the ground. However, in Namibia with our water shortages, we really can’t allow that.”

Getting on board

In her cacti purges, Gunhild often encounters reservations and sceptical glances from residents who decorate their gardens with pretty ornamental plants or use cacti to protect their property from intruders.

With much patience, she explains why cacti and other neophytes (a plant species recently introduced to an area) are so problematic for Namibia’s flora. Often she has to compromise. “This couple is afraid of burglary, so I agreed with them that the cacti can stay until I gave them an alternative,” she says while pointing to a high fence, reinforced with a roll of barbed wire on top.

However, longer spines lurk under the fence. A cactus covers almost the entire area under the fence.

She says a good alternative is the so-called “gemsbok horns” or Sanservieria pearsonii. “Those are pointed up and harmless from the side. No burglar will get in,” she promises with a laugh.

Since the problem is not only a Namibian one, Gunhild also wants to share her methods with others: “I submitted the Cactus Clean-Up Initiative to the Dubai Expo Global Best Practice Program for the 2021 World Expo,” she says.

“In Athens, what’s left of the Acropolis is also threatened by cacti. Our initiative can serve as an example of how a community can solve its own environmental problem,” she says. “The project meets all the criteria: It is inexpensive, easy to implement and it is effective.”

Bio-agents

In future, however, Barbara Curtis of the NBRI and Gunhild want to tackle the invaders not only with their hands and garden tools, but with a “bio-control agent” that is supposed to kill the cacti.

Earlier this year a committee of the Namibian Chamber of Environment approved the import of this agent from South Africa. “It’s really small insects infesting and killing the cacti,” Gunhild says. There is no danger for other plants, Barbara assures. “The bio-control agents are so specifically bred that they infect only one cactus species at a time. We now have three different kinds of these agents. As soon as the temperatures don’t drop so much at night, they will be released.”

Many of the invasive plants are beautiful, boasting colourful flowers and fruits. They are robust and well adapted to the Namibian climate. It’s no wonder then that many residents plant Cryptostegia grandiflora, a creeper with the pretty pink flowers, in their gardens. But you shouldn’t let its appearance deceive you. The “rubber vine” is highly invasive. It grows quickly and branches into trees from where it removes all light and water. An infested tree dies slowly.

Such is the case with many neophytes, says biologist Barbara. “They take over the habitat and suck water away from the native plants.”

Thus the women plead: “Don’t plant invasive cacti to begin with. Many people believe that they have control of the ornamental plants in their garden, but that is not the case,” Barbara warns. “Birds eat the seeds. Where they leave their faeces, a new plant grows. You cannot control that.”

Barbara is working on a new edition of the Atlas of Namibia, a book that lists all the country’s fauna and flora, as well as roads, geological features and much more. In contrast to the last version, invasive plants will also be included this time. That is why she is looking for places where these invader species grow.

She’s hoping that Namibians will help. “People can contact me if they spot invasive plants. It is best to send me a photo and the GPS coordinates, along with a rough description of the place and plant.”

It is important to her that the maps are supported by enough material so that they do not give the wrong impression. “If too few affected locations are placed on the map, then it may create the impression that the problem is not that big,” Curtis fears. She wants to counteract this by not looking for the invaders alone, but collecting as many clues from Namibians.

Anyone who discovers an invasive plant, can email the information to Barbara at [email protected] Ideally, please include GPS data and a photo, too.

For more information on the Cactus Clean-Up Initiative, visit www.cactusclean-up.com or contact Gunhild at [email protected]

Similar News

 

One stop recycling spot

4 days ago - 15 January 2020 | Environment

One of the top performing schools of the annual Recycle Namibia Forum (RNF) Schools Recycling Competition (SRC) – Dagbreek Special School – just introduced a...

Conservancy proactive about fire management

4 days ago - 15 January 2020 | Environment

In the last five years, the Nyae Nyae Conservancy and Community Forest has actively managed and recorded fire in their area.They took this step as...

Wild animal smuggling in the spotlight

6 days ago - 13 January 2020 | Environment

The smuggling of wild animals (the fourth-largest illegal trade in the world!) is motivated by massive gains from illegal international trade of species – an...

MET announces plans to safeguard wild horses

1 month - 25 November 2019 | Environment

The ministry of environment and tourism has released their Wild Horse Management Plan to set out objectives and guidelines for the management of these animals.The...

Need ‘green’ support? Read on!

2 months ago - 06 November 2019 | Environment

Nedbank Namibia launched the pioneering Go Green Fund in partnership with Namibia Nature Foundation in 2001 and has since blazed a trail for corporates to...

Is our rock art being destroyed by mining?

2 months ago - 30 October 2019 | Environment

The violence of mining and quarrying on the Namibian archaeological landscape is the theme of a public talk hosted by Dr Alma Nankela, an archaeologist...

Namibian expert on ADB’s ABM board

2 months ago - 29 October 2019 | Environment

A Namibian is among a group of experts on the board of a continental initiative by the African Development Bank (ADB) to mobilize financing for...

NamWater has desalination plans from coast to capital

2 months ago - 24 October 2019 | Environment

Yolanda Nel A feasibility study for the development of a Desalination Plant and Water Carriage System is currently being conducted by NamWater, proposing the supply...

Stikwerk vir ’n groener omgewing

2 months ago - 23 October 2019 | Environment

In ’n poging om plastiekverbruik te verminder en hul inkomste te verhoog, is drie vroue besig om hul naaimasjiene daarvoor in te span.Julia Gomachas en...

Saving Kiribati – a documentary

3 months ago - 10 October 2019 | Environment

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati (population: 100 000) is one of the most remote places on the planet, seemingly far-removed from the pressures of...

Latest News

Let’s talk climate change

2 days ago - 17 January 2020 | Local News

The Namibian Chamber of Environment together with the Namibia Scientific Society hosts a talk on climate change on 30 January. The speakers are Prof Rob...

Thaleia steals the show

3 days ago - 16 January 2020 | Local News

Each year, the Hochland Dog Club hosts their annual Top Dog award ceremony to celebrate and to award members for exhibiting and keeping their show...

Chill with Windhoek Express

3 days ago - 16 January 2020 | Art and Entertainment

Currently running• Unam visual arts graduate exhibition at the National Art Gallery until 25 January.Friday 17 January• 20:00 Die Broers from South Africa perform at...

Keeping four-legged family members safe

3 days ago - 16 January 2020 | Society

“Every little contribution, whether monetary or in kind, is greatly appreciated and makes a real difference in the lives of animals here at the SPCA,”...

Reho abattoir remains closed

4 days ago - 15 January 2020 | Health

Rehoboth remains without an abattoir after the closure of the town’s only abattoir by Rehoboth Town Council (RTC) almost a month ago.The action by the...

One stop recycling spot

4 days ago - 15 January 2020 | Environment

One of the top performing schools of the annual Recycle Namibia Forum (RNF) Schools Recycling Competition (SRC) – Dagbreek Special School – just introduced a...

Conservancy proactive about fire management

4 days ago - 15 January 2020 | Environment

In the last five years, the Nyae Nyae Conservancy and Community Forest has actively managed and recorded fire in their area.They took this step as...

The near future of renewables

4 days ago - 15 January 2020 | Energy

By 2024, almost 33% of the world’s electricity is forecast to come from renewables, with solar photovoltaic (PV) accounting for almost 60% (or at least...

Learn the ropes from masters

4 days ago - 15 January 2020 | Business

The first in a series of workshops at the Goethe Institut start on Saturday (18 January). The I Create Namibia workshops is a series organised...

Load More