Who doesn’t love trees really? They are undeniably calming. They give shade under which to retreat on a hot day. Their leaves sing in the breeze. They provide homes for countless birds, insects and small animals – above and below the ground. They can help to prevent erosion, increase the health of soils and keep water in the soil for longer. They take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and breathe out oxygen. They are a restaurant and a pharmacy for many – including humans who also use them for firewood. With such popularity, trees can take a beating over time, especially in a savanna environment where the balance between grassland and woodland is so delicate, and so the Great Plains Foundation would like to help to take some pressure off them – by making sure that there are many more trees around.
So after Brian Williams and his team planted 260 indigenous trees around ol Kupelia, we asked if he could get another 260 trees to plant around our new Mara Nyika camp. Brian’s passion for trees is evident. Each tree was chosen for specific reasons that would add to the ecology of the area and attract certain species.
I have had an interest in trees from childhood having grown up on farms in the Ruiru district. I later worked in the coffee industry where there were many indigenous trees growing in the coffee as shade and in adjacent grassland.
My nursery, Brian’s Trees, was started by Carole Hemmings and I have been concentrating on indigenous trees ever since.
The trees I suggested for Ol Kupelia and Mara Nyika are from observations made on many visits to the Mara area and my references are books by Henk Beentje, Andrew Agnew and Dale and Greenway.
First of all I chose the iconic Acacia and Albizia which have the look that epitomises Kenya. Plants such as Coptosperma, Buddliea, Salvia and Tinnea are attractive flowering specimens which encourage pollinators. Cassia and Dodonaea were selected for their attractive flower buds and seedpods. Bauhinia, Craibia, Dyschoriste and Ruttya are not only very colourful but attract sunbirds and butterflies adding to the ambience of the camp.
The delicate scented blossoms of the Gardenia are very attractive and the seed pods are used by the Maasai as vessels. Various species of Ficus, Warburgia, Prunus and Rauvolfia are also used by neighbouring pastoralists, some medicinally, adding interest in discussions of plant uses with the guides and guests. Clausena leaves are delicately scented and form a great habitat for smaller birds such as warblers, tinker birds, sunbirds and finches. Oncoba is a fun plant for children as the flowers looks like ‘fried eggs’ hence its common name.
– Brian Williams
When you fall in love with trees you see them in a different way. You see their benefits, their similarities, their differences and their essential functions. And when you can share that with the world, well, that’s life changing that is.