Insects and native plants

Recently there has been some alarming news about the decline of insects across the world, and it’s something that should concern you if it doesn’t already. (If you haven’t yet heard much about it, just google “insect decline“, or if you’re feeling dramatic: “insect apocalypse” and “insect armageddon“.)

Biodiversity has always been important to me – in fact I’ve even posted here before about increases in insect and ‘wild’-life that has improved since I’ve been building a garden around our home. So naturally, this issue concerns me, and it’s been top of mind (along with everything else that seems to be going wrong with increasing frequency in our environment these days).

I found a really great thread on twitter this evening by a gentleman called Paraic O’Donnell where he talks about what we could do to help sustain instect life. (Read the full thread here). Many things there I wholeheartedly agree with, but one thing in particular stood out for me: his reasoning for the use of native plants.

“So, why do native species matter? Well, for one thing, they are adapted to this environment. They *want* to grow here, and will thrive with minimal intervention. They tend not to be invasive or disruptive to ecological balance.

More importantly, other organisms (like insects) have *adapted to them*, and have come to depend on them for food or shelter.”

I’m always on about only using indigenous (and these days even endemic indigenous) plants in our garden, but if I’m honest I’ve never stopped to articulate the reasons for choosing this route like how Paraic does. I’ve also never considered the importance of them to wildlife (insects included). Yes, I choose plants because they are more suitable to the local environment – hardier, drought-resistant – that local birds like and that attract butterflies, but strangely it never occured to me that these birds and butterflies (and other insects) might actually NEED these plants.

How nice to have a new lens to view my decisions with.

And to be reminded that my gardening efforts and choices continue to have value.

Polyphagous shot hole borer

Well, will you look at that. It’s been 2 years since I last blogged. Time flies when you’re focused on other things in life. Anyway…

Hopefully you have heard about the the polyphagous shot hole borer (PSHB) which has found its way to the tree-lined streets and gardens of Johannesburg, posing a very genuine threat to our “man-made forest”.

I’m not going to repeat the information that already exists on many sites and forums online for you here though. I am however going to compile and maintain a list of links and info that I personally find relevant*. I was starting to do this anyway in order to learn more and to have all the info I need in one place to reference, and then I figured I may as well do it online in a place where you can use it too, should you so wish. And what better spot than my (almost defunct) blog?! (Also, hopefully it adds one more link to the Googleverse which one more person might see thereby raising that one little bit more awareness.)

So without further ado…

3 primary (official?) resources:

PSHB.co.za

Web: http://polyphagous-shot-hole-borer.co.za/
Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Johannesburg Urban Forest Alliance (JUFA)

Web: http://www.jufa.org.za/pshb.html
Follow them on Facebook and Twitter (Info about PSHB comes up pretty often on their twitter account, but if you are into trees, forests and urban nature in general, I recommend following them.)

Forestry & Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI)

Web: https://www.fabinet.up.ac.za/index.php/research/7
FABI does have social media channels, but PSHB info on their Twitter feed is mostly retweets of info from Fungal biologist Wilhelm de Beer and their Facebook presence is a group that appears to be more company focused. Personally, I’d rather just follow the man who very clearly knows a lot:  Mr de Beer.

Other sites of interest:

Social media-related info:

People to follow:

PSBH  (@ShotHoleBorer)
The team from PSHB.co.za, facilitated by Hilton Fryer

TreeWorks  (@TreeWorks_JHB)
Jhb tree care specialist company, owned by Julian Ortlepp

Wilhelm de Beer  (@zwdebeer)
Fungal biologist, Professor at FABI

Useful hashtags:
#PSHB, #PolyphagousShotHoleBorer, #shotholeborer


List of affected trees:

The most comprehensive list of affected trees is currently on the FABI website.
However for a newbie tree-learner like me, I still need to figure out what tree it is, never mind if it’s infected. For that I need a handy list of links for the actual trees. I shall focus on the primary ones (reproductive hosts) as listed on PSHB.co.za

Indigenous:

Exotic:

  • Trident (Chinese) maple (Acer buergerianum)
  • Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)
  • Pink flame tree (Brachychiton discolor)
  • American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
  • Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
  • Avocado (Persea americana)
  • London Plane (Platanus x acerifolia)
  • Pin oak (Quercus palustris)
  • English Oak (Quercus robur)
  • White willow (Salix alba)

Exotic and invasive:


Where and how to report it:


* PLEASE NOTE: 
This is primarily a personal reference space. If anything is incorrect, please let me know and I will fix it or remove it immediately. I do not claim to be the expert in this issue at all, nor should this blog/reference be seen as an official or fully comprehensive source. While I aim to have up-to-date information and will add and remove to this page continuously as I learn more, I cannot vouch for its accuracy. I'm not affiliated with any organisations or initiatives either.
Always contact the scientists and arborists who know best.

Worrying about water

Quote

I posted this image on the right quite a while back, and it feels more appropriate now than ever before. I’m so incredibly concerned about the water issues in Joburg and what worries me most is everyone’s apparent indifference to it.

In environmental circles a few years ago, there were warnings of drought and predictions of water restrictions. No one outside of those circles really listened. Share a predictive date that’s 5 or 10 years away and it’s apparently so removed from anyone’s reality that it’s not taken seriously. There are theories out there that say the human brain isn’t able to take threats seriously until they are imminent – but now that we have the very real threat of a lack of water, the average Joe still doesn’t appear to be taking it seriously.

Yes, there have been a few news articles in the paper, and the odd interview on radio. There’s the odd water-related hashtag floating about and most people are aware of the 6am-6pm restrictions. What’s missing for me however are the conversations around it, the mobility of the masses around it, or support from media and business. Very few appear to be talking about this issue with any sense of urgency.

Don’t we care? Don’t we understand? Is it not newsworthy enough? Or am I just not tuned into the right channels?

Admittedly, I actively insulate myself from everyday news channels, but the pertinent issues always rise out of the noise for me to find out about. In fact, I’ve found it a very effective way of filtering out the bullshit. So, the fact that I don’t hear much about our water crisis without actively going to look for the info, worries me greatly. It feels like the water issue and social encouragement to behave responsibly with our water supply is not finding a way to be heard, shared and acted upon.

Am I alone in feeling this way? Please let me know – I’d love to be proven wrong on this issue. I’d love to hear that everyone else is as concerned as I am.

Subterfuge in the kitchen

There is deception going on in my kitchen in the name of greening. I feel a little uncomfortable about it, so in order to nullify my guilt, I am coming ‘clean’.

Here it is: I repackage green cleaning products into the “known” but non-green equivalents. Gasp! 

Here’s why: My housekeeper is a lovely old lady, very set in her ways, and I’m guessing not too well educated. In her world, there are a limited number of brands that you can/should/must use to do the tasks needed when cleaning a home. Omo or Surf for cleaning clothes. Handy Andy, Domestos, Windowlene, Mr Muscle, Toilet Duck and Sunlight dish wash liquid for cleaning the home. Nothing else is acceptable.

I’ve explained that there are many better alternatives – ones that we all know are better for both her health and the environment – but I’m not certain she a) understands or b) believes me.

Either way, I keep getting requests for all these specific things, even though there are full bottles of green substitutes sitting in the cupboard. I cannot bring myself to buy the chemical brands, so I’ve resorted to buying the green versions, decanting them into the “known, loved and expected” branded bottle and (so far) she’s happy.

And then I’m happy. (Even though I’m technically lying).

You could argue this is a bit of a #firstworldproblem, but seriously, does anyone do this sort of thing in the interests of keeping a green home?

Quote of the day

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists […]

Latest IPCC report out. And it’s bleak.

IPCC 2013 report The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released their latest and updated report about climate change yesterday.  Admittedly I haven’t read much in detail, having just skimmed over the headline and summary documents, but I find it bleak reading.

The primary take-out, and one which every climate change justice group worth it’s salt is talking about, is that it is “now 95 percent likely that human spewed heat-trapping gases — rather than natural variability — are the main cause of climate change.” (quote via: The Atlantic). I’m sure the climate change skeptics out there are fuming at this statement and trying desperately to discount this news and confuse the public as they’re so good at doing, but here’s a brilliant excerpt from the Climate Reality Project that I find completely indisputable.Read More »

New aliens!

snakegrass&periwinkle

New NEMBA (National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act) regulations have just been passed with regards to Invasive Alien Species in SA. For a proudly South African, pro-indigenous, biodiversity-aware person like me, this news borders on being described as exciting (seriously!)

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A meat-free rant

cows

I’m not sure when or how some people forgot that chicken or fish are meat, but it appears that many are of this bizarre opinion. I’ve been faced with this a couple of times in the past, but it was brought sharply to my attention again this weekend in an article I read in the Sunday papers.

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