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River “super plants” to save the day

One should never underestimate the value of giving back. I realised this when I visited one of the areas that WWF's Freshwater Programme’s crew have been working in, in the Overberg region of the Western Cape.

© Natasha Prince/WWF-SA
WWF team initiated invasive alien clearing in this area in 2014, much of the catchment was wall-to-wall with black wattle. To date, 200 hectares have been cleared.

There I met a group of interesting people who live within the Riviersonderend catchment and  propagate indigenous plants for a living.

Removing alien invasive plants that suck up good water and actively restoring riverbanks with harvesting and re-planting of indigenous plants are among ways of ensuring healthy river systems for the Riversonderend catchment. In essence - taking out the bad and putting back the good.

Before the WWF team initiated invasive alien clearing in this area in 2014, much of the catchment was “wall-to-wall with black wattle”. Invasive plants multiply and grow quickly, and are extremely water thirsty.

I was shocked to learn that 200 hectares have been cleared, which I’m told is as any area the size of about 200 international rugby fields. That’s a very large area that is now free of these water-sucking plants near this river.

In with the good

But the area also has a huge palmiet wetland. I was fascinated to find out about the super powers of this Indigenous plant also referred to as “wetland glue”. It slows down water velocity of a river that is in flood, acting as a water filter, and reducing soil and debris being washed down the river to the sea.

While removing alien invasive plants is crucial, restoration is key to the returning of functionality to rivers and includes the prevention of soil erosion. And this is why propagation at the Genadendal Community Nursery has become important.

A labour of love

Juliana November is one of the 11 people working at the nursery. She collects seeds and cuttings of indigenous plants, including palmiet, from the Meulrivier and the Sonderend River which is propagated at the nursery.

Juliana’s labour of love ensures that her community enjoys the benefits of a healthy river system. So, in her own way, Juliana sees her day job as a means of giving back to nature.

She strongly believes that awareness and education will see this project thrive.

Her theory is that the more people understand the purpose of their restoration work, the benefits to their community, and on a larger scale the country’s long-term water supply, the better the chances that they would find the value and benefit of “giving back” to nature - the way they do at the nursery.

© Natasha Prince/WWF-SA
Juliana November from Bereaville near Genadendal, at the Genadendal Community Nursery.

Before my visit to the catchment and meeting the nursery folk, I was unaware of how much the daily toils of the restoration crew meant not only for the group, but for the long-term health of the river, the catchment and also the greater Genadendal community.

I left Riviersonderend feeling inspired to go out and find my own ways of giving back - my own “super plants” of purpose worth re-planting and reminded that our simple actions to better our environment can be rewarding to ourselves, our communities and nature.

Natasha Prince Photo
Natasha Prince, WWF communications officer