When I say GVI Limpopo made me care about trees, this doesn’t mean that I didn’t care about trees before. Of course, as a person that loves the planet, I have always cared about trees. I know the importance of trees as sources of oxygen, habitat and storm mitigators. Deforestation angers me and breaks my heart knowing the impact of the loss. However, I never cared much for species identification and botany in general until I came to GVI. When I studied conservation biology and zoology at university, I dreaded plant physiology classes and vegetation surveys during field work courses. And yes, I know that in order to study animals, we must understand what they eat and where they live but that doesn’t change the fact that this particular part of conservation never interested me. But after being at GVI for almost a month now I have become more interested and maybe even a little bit obsessed with identifying trees. As of now I can identify over twenty species which is more than I can identify even in my home state of New York. I cannot explain exactly what it is that has changed my mind about trees but perhaps it is the fact that I am constantly surrounded by them and I can’t avoid them. We go on two 4 hour drives, Monday through Saturday and most of the time the only thing to look at is the trees. I also think that the enthusiasm of my fellow interns over tree identification may have rubbed off on me. It is difficult to sit in the cruiser and not get involved when everyone is actively trying to identify the tree species. Perhaps it is the fact that I always thought plant identification was daunting because to me they all look too similar. However, a month at GVI made me quickly learn that they are actually all very different if you take the time to look.
There are the bushwillow trees such as the red bushwillow and the russet bushwillow that have their distinctive pods. As well as the knobthorn with the distinctive “knobs” on the trunk along with the mickey mouse ear shaped leaves. One of the first species I was able to identify was buffalo thorn because they have small sharp spikes pointing in opposite directions and a zigzag shape to the branch. I was quick to identify this tree because I find myself constantly ducking to avoid them on drives. There are of course many more than I just mentioned but identifying trees is and will be a slow process for me.
While I would still prefer to study animals over plants, I have become less overwhelmed by the vast species of trees and am more interested in learning about them. I don’t think I will ever begin a vegetation survey with an eye roll and a groan again.
By: Samantha DiSibio