On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Personal Observations On Plant Propagation
One recurring lament about his travels into other countries was often about the lack of variety of local fruits and vegetables that should have been suited to the climates and soils of that region. Some countries had a distinct paucity of variety in local markets, even when the soil types and rainfall regimes ostensibly would permit growing them successfully. A few examples would make the case about the lack of sophistication in local and regional flora, but the reader must be reminded that these observations are mere anecdotes that lack scientific verification. In his defense, however, the Footloose Forester was usually acknowledged as being perceptive in his observations; and tried always to link observations with cause and effect reasoning. Knowing what works --and what does not-- was a powerful driving force that led the Footloose Forester to seek higher education in the first place, and then spend so many years in college. Afterwards, those traits were part of his modest skill set in project design, evaluation; and in critical analysis.
Getting down to cases, one lament was about the lack of good tasting mangos in Cape Verde. There were plenty of mango trees in the landscape, demonstrating at least that mango was an adaptable species in that climate. Unfortunately, one hardly ever saw a mango for sale in the markets. It may have been due to the fact that the typical mango was so inferior that most people might judge it as inedible. Botanists know, of course, that there are more than a thousand varieties and not all of them are adaptable to every growing regime. Yet, the Footloose Forester always lamented that there were no grafted trees around, thus any edible mangos. Regrettably, there were few known innovators among the Cape Verdeans, so having a fruit orchard with grafted mangos (and other tropical fruits) as a starting point to a richer horticultural base was not a national priority, as it might have been.
On the other hand, there are numerous varieties of delicious mangos in the Hawaiian Islands. Granted, many of the trees are grafted because mango is one species that does not breed reliably heritable characteristics into succeeding generations. Plant breeders would simply say that they do not breed true. Nevertheless, establishing genetic lines of commercially attractive and consumer accepted fruit is a legacy in Hawaii that should not be taken for granted. Though it may stretch the limits of credulity among some people, there are many similarities between the soils and microclimate regimes of Hawaii and Cape Verde. The Footloose Forester had lived for years in both places, and thus believes that the similarities are real; and the prospects for enhanced horticultural development are legitimate. Admittedly, there are also examples where the local markets were rich in fruits and vegetables, particularly in tropical countries.
Whereas most people have some knowledge about fruits they had purchased in supermarkets and at roadside stands, most laymen don't inquire where the germplasm came from, or what distinguishes one species or variety from another. Horticulturists and foresters usually don't take the existence of fruits and vegetables for granted; for they know that plant propagation requires active involvement to improve both the quality and quantity of our food and fiber resources.
Thus, one memory that he doesn’t want to forget was the sight of several hundred redwood trees in the city of Geneva, Switzerland in 1989. He wasn’t expecting them and not looking for them, but after seeing several planted redwoods scattered at various places, he started an informal count. The famous California redwood, Sequoia sempivirens can be seen in at least 300 places throughout Geneva. The average diameter was about 18 inches and typical height of that size tree was about 150 feet. A few large Coast Redwood trees can also be found on the Big Island of Hawii. We sometimes forget how common the plantings of exotic species can be.
Footloose Forester saw large specimens of the other California redwood tree, Sequoia gigantea in botanical gardens in New Delhi, India and a few other places in the tropics. Many surprises are in store for anyone who takes the time to explore. Twenty four years later, he also saw specimens of Sequoia growing in Switzerland. The one at the left is a specimen of Sequoiadendron giganteum located in Emmen, Switzerland.
It was a serendipitious search by the Google method in late 2014 that led to a photo of California redwoods at Hogsback Arboretum in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The five redwoods planted there have been an attraction for more than a hundred years. Just another example of the prospects of planting exotics in unfamiliar places and having them thrive.
The other famous California redwood also grows as an ornamental in Switzerland. There are a few specimens of the Giant Sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum that are known to the Footloose Forester. Botanists have changed the genus name, but that is not uncommon in plant taxonomy. He obtained a few cones from the tree growing behind an apartment building where he was staying outside of Luzern in the fall of 2013. Sequoia as a separate species from the Coast Redwood tends to have a tapered bole; and the one he inspected had a diameter at breast height of about 26 inches. A few others around the town of Emmen has similar heights and diameters, suggesting that their seeds were imported and planted at about the same period of time in the past.