Tree Seed and Lushoto

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Hopefully by sharing experiences, others are motivated.

Submitted: March 21, 2017

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Submitted: March 21, 2017

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For pretty much all my career, I have been collecting tree seed, sometime on a small scale, other times by the sack-full for the seed extractory plant at Rotorua. Sometimes openly and sometimes slyly. Never illegally! It is therefore second nature for me to keep my eye out for seed wherever I go. Not necessarily only seed, cuttings too, not all trees propagate easily from seed and cuttings can be a better option.

Mo and Jo had taken us to the Rest House at Amani, on the East Usambara Mountains and later on the coast we spent a night in a brothel in Tanga! Well now, we thought it was a hotel but the night noises and what we saw from the dining room in the morning told us a different tale! If you go through life without experiences, she’s a pretty dull one! Anyway on our way home, they wanted to show us the village of Lushoto, in the West Usambara Mountains. When they said, ‘Lushoto village,’ the understatement is considerable.

The village of Mombo sits on the junction of the Dar es Salaam – Moshi highway where the Lushoto road starts to climb the mountain. Mombo is a busy market town, a rest stop for buses plying the route and also to cater for tourists coming to or from Lushoto. We stopped for lunch at a bar/restaurant, Araucaria by name, where the chicken and chips are a delight and the meal is served outside in the shade of huge Araucaria trees and umbrellas. The beer isn’t too bad either.

Beyond Lushoto village is the President’s Palace, which is probably why the road is sealed. It is narrow and winding with some sharp drops but if you’re not driving and there is no other traffic, it is a very pleasant trip. No doubt when the President visits, the road is closed, so his car would sit squarely on the centre line! The palace is obscured behind trees and the signs saying ‘No Entry’ are no empty warning.

The area enjoys a higher rainfall which supports intensive cropping, and the higher you travel, the more rainforest clings to the hills. In colonial times the Germans set up camp because of the relatively cool climate compared to the business towns of Dar es Salaam, Dodoma, Moshi and Arusha. This goes back to the days of German East Africa. But after WWI the British Took over and the country became Tanganyika, later joining with Zanzibar to eventually become The Peoples Republic of Tanzania. So in a way, the British benefited from the early work of the Germans.

Soni Falls is a small village before Lushoto and the roadside market consists mainly of women hawking fruit and vegetables. Apples and pears are grown in the area, old fashioned varieties maybe, but it gives an indication of the climate. I spotted loquats, filberts in American lingo, so I determined to buy some on the way back because they are loaded with seed. And indeed there are now loquats growing in rural villages around Mount Meru. (When I was back at Makumira, I used to give the loquats to kids; their part of the deal was to return the seed to me.)

Just before Lushoto there is a now-defunct tannery which extracted tannin from Acacia mearnsii, an Australian species. I have grown this species in New Zealand and in parts of South Africa it’s called ‘green cancer’ because of its invasive capacity. It has spread also around Lushoto, buy not in plague proportions. I bought some seed and sowed it but distributed to only drier, more heavily grazed areas where it was unlikely to spread. It is useful for poles when building wattle and daub houses and the bark cut into strips when green is good for tying the poles because it really firms up when it dries out.

Sugar cane is grown in the area and wherever there is a street seller, there is a circle of chewed cane surrounding him. Pieces on cane about six inches long are sold cheaply and it is chewed, sucked dry of its juice and spat out. This continues as the punter walks along. So the circle may well extend over one hundred metres in diameter. What vermin this attracts, I have no idea – it is a delicacy I sampled, but did not consume often so I pretty much avoided walking amongst it.

Anyway, back to the business in hand. Tourists travel to Lushoto for the culture and the views from the Viewpoint, which are spectacular and well worth making a special trip to enjoy. But the Germans were interested in forestry and their work continues but as a forty second cousin to the original work. My work permit came under the Forestry, Natural Resources and Beekeeping Department and I was excited to see a sign with that name hung above an office block and compound. The officer in charge was a keen forester, but he and his department were obviously strapped for funds. He took me to a hut that was a herbarium. A collection of dried plant material, identified and labelled including where the specimen came from. It was extensive and professional, if aged. The herbarium was compiled by the Germans and had been mainly closed through lack of interest, only opened from time to time. I had a ball! Specimens came from around the world including New Zealand.

The forester told me that there was also an arboretum, an orderly collection of trees. He told me the arboretum covered three hundred acres, which is a pretty impressive arboretum! I was pushed for time but I had a cursory look to find that it had been pretty much unmanaged since German times! So the trees were huge, almost a hundred years old and in this climate most were growing well. There were several stands of Araucaria species. The one everyone used to ask for, they called ngazi, ladder, because of the branch whorls are as even as ladder rungs. Araucaria hetrophylla or Norfolk Pine is the preferred species. During a quick search I could find no viable seed. I suspect there is a rush to obtain them because seedlings sell for good money.

My friend the forester also told me about the National Tree Seed Project. This is a wonderful facility! It was funded by Demark, who were slowing withdrawing, handing the project over to the government. They had teams of collectors and there were staff on-site who cleaned the seed and stored it under controlled conditions. I bought some seed there and then, seed that I found difficult to collect myself. I now had an excuse to return there regularly!

So over some seven years, I visited Lushoto many times, a rich place to purchase seed and seedlings. If you look, there are always stories and I will relate some of them. If good fortune sees you in Tanzania, Lushoto is a must!


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