The Pioneer Project is focused on the first step in most of our greening activities. This project aims at improving, implementing, streamlining, and dissemminating knowlege around how to convert a disturbed space into a baseline fynbos garden through the use of pioneer species.
In nature, pioneer plants are those plants that show up first after a fire or other disturbance, and create a safe and comfortable environment for other plants to start growing. Think of pioneers as a scab on any injury to the fynbos landscape. Pioneers are hardy plants that can establish in harsh environments, and once they have settled in they provide protection from sun, rain, and wind. They improve the soil health by shading the soil and preventing water loss. They also hold the soil in place preventing erosion and root disturbance, and add soil bacteria and fungi to the site that help provide extra nutirents, vitamins, minerals and water to the plants.
Pioneers create an ideal nursery environment for more sensitive species. Introducing pioneers to a site is the first step in fynbos ecosystem recovery, and after this one can continue enriching the fynbos patch with other plant species.
At Communitree we have been practicing the implementation of pioneer gardens since 2017. Lots of our sites were overgrown with kikuyu grass and after removing this invasive species we had to introduce pioneers to prepare the patches for other fynbos plants. We have been supported by other projects and people who have shared their knowledge around which pioneer species are useful to start with. Our home nursery volunteers have been a great help by growing the right plants, and this project is also linked to our Sour Fig Challenge, which is one of the pioneer species that we use.
This project will be an ongoing endevour by Communitree. As we add new gardens to our garden network, we will continue to require a procedure to set up a pioneer garden. Most gardens will pass through this "pioneers phase" as they are being developed. We will continue to research, practice, and report on our experiences in the pioneer project.
Below we share the various steps that are part of our pioneer project, as well as a list of pioneer species that we have successfully worked with in our gardens.
Before planting the plant species that are best for specialist sunbird and monkey beetle species, we need to prepare the site and the soil because the specialist sunbird plant species that will be planted in year two or three, such as ericas and proteas, are more sensitive to soil disturbance, pH and nutrient level and need this corrected before they are planted. Soil preparation should be done by April/May when the rains come and plants are ready to be planted out.
The process is as follows:
~ Avoid bushy plants such as bitobos, chrysanthemoides and searsia (Strandveld) as they become places to hide, or space them very widely and trim back very harshly each year.
Thank you for the input: Ceinwen Smith (Ingcungcu), Caitlin von Witt (Fynbos Life), Dalton Gibbs (City of Cape Town), Joanne Eastman (Friends of Rondebosch Common), Julia September, Pat Holmes (City of Cape Town), Patrick Dowling (WESSA)
An important part of the soil preparation process is the planting of pioneers after removing alien vegetation cover, a year 1/first phase activity, which largely fulfills goal 2: to improve the plant cover, plant number, and species number of locally indigenous plants at each patch. In the years that follow, the plant species richness is enhanced with plant species that more directly support goal 4: to improve the abundance and species richness of sunbirds, monkey beetles, bees and flies, are added.
Work every one to two months as a team on weeding, or if you are working individually, work on small bits of weeding continuously. Always target weeds that are about the seed, and at a minimum remove their seeds before they are released.
It is best to follow up any weeding by covering the freshly exposed soil with a groundcover, mulch, or if in a pathway, dampened and compacted sawdust is best. If you don’t have any of these materials, the next best thing is to push the soil back in and pat it back down as disturbed and loosened soil is easily colonised by a fresh batch of weed. Covering the soil is best because it keep the soil from losing water, keeps the sun from baking the soil, and keeps the weeds from sprouting up by denying them light. They grow where the light hits the soil.
|Arctotheca calendula||Easy to grow|
|Arctotis stoechadifolia||Easy to grow|
|Carpobrotus acinaciformis||Easy to grow|
|Carpobrotus edulis||Easy to grow|
|Gazania rigens var. rigens||Easy to grow|
|Gazania rigens var. uniflora||Easy to grow|
|Eriocephalus africanus||Easy to grow|
|Metalasia muricata||Easy to grow|
|Pelargonium capitatum||Easy to grow|
|Pelargonium cucullatum||Easy to grow|
|Tetragonia fruticosa||Easy to grow|
|Seriphium plumosum||Easy to grow|
|Plectranthus neochilus||Easy to grow|