Like the magical forest in the blockbuster Hollywood movie, Avataar, Mitchell Park's unique tree collection has sparked interest among amateur botanists.
According to local historian and tour guide Gordon Michael, "The park celebrates 125 years this year with its key attraction mostly its iconic animals and birds but its majestic trees are also a joy to cherish."
As concern about climate change and the environment mounts around the globe, volunteers have turned their attention to imaginative programmes to promote greening and the Park's vast array of indigenous and exotic trees.
This weekend's centrepiece is the Mitchell Park Trust's celebration of "Green Diwali" decorating the trees with just lights.
"The event is open to the public and the lights will be ceremonially switch on this Friday, 11 October at 5.30pm," said Trust chairperson Dr Sanil Singh. The organisers plan not only to light up the "green oasis" but also teach other about the city's green heritage. Having researched the park, botanical enthusiast Ansu Singh believes that, "Trees have a direct line of communication with the human soul".
In poetic refrain she adds that their trunks andbranches are wondrous creations that can stand sturdy and impenetrable but alsoflex and sway with the wind. Artist Robin Opperman will display his imaginative "Garden of Gratitude" throughout this weekend.
His flowers are made entirely from recycled plastic and are designed to promote environmental education. The organisers hope that enduring childhood memories include climbing treesin the backyard or old neighbourhoods will entice people to appreciate the city's greenery amidst its dense metropolitan developments. "Mitchell Park makes a subliminal contribution to the peace and tranquility of the human soul. The reason we are drawnto trees is because they are both beautiful and majestic. No two are alike," adds the Trust chairperson.
Different species display endless variety of shapes, forms, textures and vibrant colours. According to Ansu Singh, trees send chemical, hormonal and slow-pulsing electrical signals to each other
by way of the underground mycorrhizal networks.
Swiss scientists have identified voltage-based signals that appear similar to the electrical impulses in an animal's nervous system.
"We need to acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate what the park offers and one ofits most amazing features is its largest tree, the South African Baobab," adds Michael.
This 'upsidedown tree' as it is commonly referred to, flourishes far from its home Province inLimpopo. The Baobab grows to a gigantic size and carbon dating indicates that it may live to up to 3000 years. Its trunk can hold up to 120,000 litres of water thus enabling it to adapt to the harsh drought conditions of itsenvironment. The tree may even be tapped in dry periods.
The Park's treasure chest of trees is enormous with other elegant indigenous varieties includingthe fever tree. The fever tree gets its common name from early European residents who believedthat the tree caused fevers because of its yellowish colour. The fever wasactually malaria, which they caught from mosquitoes that bred in the swampy fever tree habitat. The bark of the tree yielded quinine used in thetreatment of malaria. Another towering delight in the park is thethe Natal Mahogany or Essenwood. It is a large evergreen with a wide crowncasting dense shade. The huge trees present a formidable avenue as one enters Mitchell Park and gives the nearby Essenwood Road its name. A bit of humour also features with the 'Sausage Tree' commonly so-called because its fruit resembles huge sausages. They fruit almost all year round.
Michael who has been in the park almost every day for the past 50 years says that the value of the green oasis is incalculable. "For us to make a contribution to our planet and for posterity we need to have a constant drive not only to plant, but also prevent the destruction of trees."
The Trust has challenged citizens to take the planting of trees as apersonal mission to mitigate the effects of climate change because as humans we breath in oxygen and trees do the opposite. As part of the weekend's Green Diwali activities, there will be a competition and prizes for children to identify the trees and their medicinal uses.
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