EASTERN NEWS | Mystery plant ravages Manicaland

MUTARE - Like the stealth invader that it is, a mysterious invasive plant that first appeared in Chimanimani at the turn of the millennium is taking over the Eastern Highlands.

Taking over thousands of hectares, the plant, which is now ubiquitous from Chipinge right through Chimanimani, Burma Valley, Vumba up to Nyanga, is now creeping all over Manicaland with Mutare and Rusape also now affected.

The mysterious invader is suspected to have been carried across the mountains from Mozambique by Cyclone Eline which hit the country in 2000.

Oblivious to its colonising of whole landscapes no one — from government to private property owners — is putting up a fight against the entrenching plant that was first observed more than 17 years ago.

Where it has taken root, the plant has aggressively spread to even deny animals passage through its thickets.

Villagers in Chimanimani — where it was first sighted — have tried machetes and hoes to clear the weed, while commercial timber plantations belonging to Border Timbers and Allied Timbers have doused it with chemicals and tried to root it out, all without success.

People in Rusitu Valley and Chikukwa communal areas have named it “Cyclone” or “Mupese-pese” as it now appears everywhere one turns.

There has not been any government response to it with local Forestry Commission officials professing ignorance of the problem plant.

Local environmentalists, forestry companies and the national herbarium are still to formally identify the fast-spreading plant which those that have tried to contain it feel it’s nearly impossible to control.

However, Bart Wursten — a leading Zimbabwe plant expert — believes the plant may be vernonanthura phosphorica, a native of Brazil.

It is suspected the plant may have been introduced in neighbouring Mozambique in the 1990s, to attract bees and produce honey.

In Chikukwa, villagers who have been doing apiculture are already enjoying its potency in commercial honey production as their yields have boomed and the quality of their honey improved.

“It has been getting clearer and the yields have been improving,” Phineas Chikoshana, a Chikukwa Ecological Land Use Community Trust (CELUCT) official says.

But even then, their celebrations are dampened by the reality of the tree suffocating all other agricultural activities in the
region.

Beekeepers are just lucky beneficiaries of the horror plant.

In Rusitu Valley, villagers have also complained of their fruit orchards being suffocated and all areas hitherto reserved for pastures being completely colonised by the plant.

Efforts to get comment from Timber Producers’ Federation (TPF) were fruitless by the time of going to print.

TPF, a body representing timber producers in the country, has been leading efforts to have the plant formally identified and solutions sought to control it as it has been choking forest plantations across the eastern highlands.

TPF previously said they had not had any success at controlling the plant.

Without any public notices or awareness programmes, the plant has now escaped to areas where locals are completely oblivious of its effects.

In Biriiri, a relatively arid area, villagers who were interviewed by the Eastern News professed complete ignorance of the plant.

Mutare’s Chikanga suburb, which has a significant amount of the plant, is also completely ignorant of the plant.

None of the high density suburb’s residents could even take notice that there is a new plant in their area.

In Mutasa, the same ignorance prevails.

William Chatigu, Kwayedza Lodge proprietor in the lower Vumba, confessed he was learning of the plant for the first time and had been tolerating it on his property.

“I didn’t know about it and I’ll share this information with my colleagues in the area so that we try to contain it before it goes out of hand,” Chatigu said.

Further in Rusape and Makoni districts ignorance of the plant continues to give it free reign to multiply as it eats further and further into Zimbabwe.

 

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