Lord of the trees

Windhoek boasts around 500 public green spaces that need to be maintained regularly. Here Jaco Fourie who is responsible for taking care of these areas, shares why the choice of plants in a dry country like Namibia is crucial.

06 December 2021 | Local News

Windhoek • Lea Dillmann

“Do you see that large tree growing there?” Jaco Fourie asks, pointing to a tree about 30 meters high with thick, curved branches and dark green leaves.
It is a eucalyptus, also called Blue Gum. He says that the tree is native to the Australian states of Victoria and Tasmania. Because it can withstand high temperatures and strong winds, it is also found in Windhoek. “Residents must have planted it near the park,” he says.
His tone changes and his facial expression becomes serious. What sounds like a wonderful tree to create shade, actually uses a lot of water, he says. “A large Blue Gum like this slurps up to 10 000 litres of water on hot days; water that is precious in a dry country like Namibia. The result is also a poorer quality of grass. This shows that our choice of which trees we plant, is crucial. Trees with smaller leaves like acacia, need less water.”
Fourie has been working for the municipal department responsible for parks and public green spaces in Windhoek for ten years. More than 500 of these spaces are dotted over Windhoek. He is currently responsible for planting trees along city streets. On his journeys through Windhoek, he checks for felled trees.
The 41-year-old grew up in Windhoek and studied horticulture at the Technical University of Pretoria.

Beatifying the city
“My colleagues and I are trying to make the city more beautiful,” he says as he stops at another park, which is divided by a river bed. On the one hand, his work consists of preserving plants and on the other, of making the green spaces safer.
The tall grass must be cut regularly to prevent criminals from hiding there. The police should be able to have a good overview of each park, he says. “If it was left to the officials, all areas would be cleared,” he says. However, a lack of grass causes the soil to dry out and promotes landslides. When heavy rainfall occurs, this leads to uncontrollable water flow, Fourie explains.
According to him, it is important to protect indigenous plants, because these in turn are preferred by birds when choosing their breeding grounds. He refers to a weaver that slips right into its rounded nest, which hangs on a thin branch of a camel thorn tree - which is one of the most protected plant species in Namibia.
The protection of indigenous trees and shrubs begins with teaching the population, Fourie emphasizes, and encourages locals to plant indigenous trees in their own gardens. Many could not distinguish between an indigenous and an invasive plant. For example, the “apiesdoring” can often be mistaken for an indigenous tree. However, it is originally from South Africa. Through its seeds, it multiplies independently. In doing so, it displaces other indigenous plants and trees.
The municipality therefore constantly uses chemicals to stop invasive plants from radical expansion. However, Fourie considers this method to be “expensive, slow and ineffective”, even though he gives the assurance that these chemicals are not harmful to humans.

Save water with mulch
Not all invasive plants endanger Namibia’s natural diversity, Fourie says while en route to yet another park. He says they can be used and fill “gaps” in the city, for example colourful flowers.
Fourie turns off at a service station and stops his car next to a dark wooden coffee house. The thick branches of a camel thorn tree protrude from its’ roof. Fourie smiles and says that this is how we should all deal with Namibia's plant diversity.
Stepping out of the car and heading to the “middle man” on the neighbouring road, he stands in front of one of the trees planted here. “Since we distribute mulch around the trees, we only need to water it every two weeks instead of every week,” he explains, kneeling next to a “Celtis” tree.
The mulch keeps the earth cool and helps to retain moisture.
Fourie and his colleagues want to share this with residents. For this reason, the municipality has set up a collection point for green goods, where the City dumps all organic material that has been collected in public parks.

Trees being stolen
A persistent problem are that trees are being stolen. “Just last week we planted a tree here on the middle man,” Fourie says. “The next day it was gone.”
Back in the bakkie, Fourie heads to the green collection point, which is located directly behind his office. In the bright midday sun, he grabs a palm leaf. This green material is available to residents and can be picked up free of charge at the Parks Division, he says.
This is where our tour for today ends.
“What I miss in Windhoek are parks where people can come and relax early evening,” Fourie says.
Currently, the parks are considered by residents as unused land, which is a shame. It even happens that people dump their rubbish there. Fourie wants to change this. “We want to give something back to society.”

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