The benefits of trees

Eva van Belle, Fish Hoek

I fully agree with Mikhail Manuel’s letter, (“Trees: An investment worth making,” Echo, January 23) that we need to plant trees, and it is wonderful that the City of Cape Town is making trees available for property owners and organisations to plant.

An environment with trees is cooler, has cleaner air and is better for our mental health. It is of benefit to birds and other small animals, which in return benefit us. However, when planting trees, please consider the following:

* The Cape Peninsula has a large variety of microclimates, with huge variation in rainfall, amount of sunlight, wind, and soil types. A tree that might flourish in Noordhoek or Claremont will not survive in windy Fish Hoek, for instance. If possible, find out what kind of vegetation grew in your area before urbanisation, and base your choice of tree on that. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to once again see rooiels trees along the Elze River in Glencairn, the tree after which the river is named?

* The urban edge is regularly exposed to fire. Palm trees, with their elevated pompoms of oily fruit and oily and dry leaves, can go up like a Roman candle and have contributed to loss of properties in Simon’s Town during a mountainside burn a few years ago. Palm tree and resinous pine trees and firs should not be grown on the urban edge. If your property is on the urban edge, growing succulents and low vegetation around your house makes more fire sense than growing trees. The indigenous white milkwood tree has fire retardant properties.

* When growing trees on pavements, be aware that it will be your responsibility to provide clearance for cars.

* Some trees are huge water guzzlers, especially pines and gum trees, thereby depleting the ground water. Select indigenous drought resistant trees that are more sparing with water.

* Tree roots can cause structural damage to buildings and paved areas. Leaf litter building up in gutters is a fire hazard. The best is to plant a tree well away from your house, and at least a metre away from the road.

* A tree at the edge of your property can provide ingress for criminals.

* Do not plant invasive alien species such as Port Jackson or black wattle. If they occur on your property, cut them down and plant something else. Birds eat the seeds and spread them on the mountainside to the detriment of our fynbos. Australian acacia species are also a fire hazard, as they burn at a very high temperature.

We have a wonderful range of indigenous trees to choose from. Plant well and plant wisely.