Disappearing tree

An evergreen tree found only in Africa is on the verge of extinction because of large-scale stripping of its bark

 
Published: Friday 15 September 2000

there is no end to human wants and an evergreen tree is the latest prey of this. Prunus africana, a tree found only in Africa, may become extinct within 5-10 years. The tree is being cut down by the poachers just for its bark, which provides the best natural cure for prostate disorders.

Studies have shown that pygeum powder, extracted from the bark of the Prunus africana, provides relief from ailments such as benign prostatic hyperplasia, which is the swelling of the prostate gland. In 1999, the sale of medicines made from the bark of Prunus africana fetched some us $220 million from retail sales, mostly in Europe. In the same year at least 3,500 tonnes of Prunus africana trees were cut by African farmers, as compared to 200 tonnes in 1980, despite the fact that the tree is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Considering the fact that Prunus grows very slowly, its chances of survival are even more dull. It takes almost 15-20 years for a single Prunus africana tree to produce seeds and almost the same duration to produce the bark.

But now researchers at the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry ( icraf ) in Nairobi are trying to solve this problem by using a technique called morcotting. The technique involves removing the bark of the tree from a branch. The bark is then smothered in peat and covered with plastic. This induces the branch to produce roots that can be planted separately.

Researchers at icraf estimate that morcotting will help in bringing down the reproduction cycle of the trees to just three years. They added that it will prove to be successful in only five per cent of the cases, as a lot of factor such as the age of the tree, the season, humidity and the temperature affect the successful implementation of the technique.

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