Picture: Supplied

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park recently completed a tree-labelling project aimed at the interpretation of natural and cultural heritage in the World Heritage Site. 

During this intensive exercise, over 2 000 tree labels have been placed on common, rare and endemic species of indigenous trees at public access points in the following tourism nodes: Maphelane, St Lucia, Sodwana Bay, False Bay, Eastern Shores, Western Shores, uMkhuze, Coastal Forest and Kosi Bay.

The park said in a statement that South African tree expert, Geoff Nichols, led the project and was assisted by iSimangaliso’s Sifiso Vumase, Nerosha Govender and local isiZulu/Thonga naturalists who are respected izinyanga and izangoma in their communities.

Tree labels for 294 species of trees were created with each label giving the scientific, English, and local isiZulu and Thonga names of each tree.

Three of the trails that have labelled trees are St Lucia’s Igwalagwala Trail through the estuarine forest, the St Lucia Crocodile Centre, and the Sand Dune Trail at Maphelane. Picture: Supplied


Working with isiZulu/Thonga naturalists has led to the correction and addition of many of the isiZulu/Thonga tree names for northern KwaZulu-Natal. 

Nerosha Govender, iSimangaliso’s manager for research and development said: “It is important to capture the many different isiZulu and Thonga names of trees in this area. Due to the different dialects spoken in northern KZN one tree species can have many isiZulu and Thonga names depending on the area in which the tree is found. Much of this local knowledge is being lost although it forms an important part of isiZulu and Thonga cultural heritage. The iSimangaliso tree labelling project has allowed for some of this history and heritage to be recorded.”

They said that the tree labels were also linked to smart technology. 

“Many of the tree labels contain QR codes, which by means of smart-phone technology allow tourists access to more detailed natural and cultural information about the trees on the SANBI website. This project has also updated the tree lists for the Park which have been incorporated into the national species lists for South Africa.”

Sifiso Vumase, a former iSimangaliso bursary student and intern, now permanently employed at the iSimangaliso Authority, says he is passionate about trees. 

“When I was a boy herding cattle back home at Manguzi, my father, a traditional healer, taught me a lot about trees. This project has allowed me to develop my skills further and I have had the pleasure of interacting with various local tree experts and botanists.”

Many fruitful hours were spent walking the trails and discussing the intricacies of the plants and trees and their cultural, scientific and medicinal characteristics. Above left: Inyanga Mbuyase, Sifiso Vumase and Geoff Nichols discuss the trees in the False Bay section of iSimangaliso, considered by Nichols to be one of the most biodiverse pieces of sand forest that he has ever encountered. Above right: A towering Newtonia hildebrandtii (Lebombo wattle) at False Bay. Picture: Supplied


Vumase, whose knowledge has increased immensely under Nichols’ tutelage, is now responsible for managing the tree labelling project and he continues to add to the Park’s extensive tree lists. Part of his work also includes the maintenance of tree labels.

Sifiso Vumase (above right), a former iSimangaliso bursary student and intern, now permanently employed at the iSimangaliso Authority, says he is passionate about trees. Picture: Supplied


Due to the fact that trees continue to grow and broaden, labels are loosely fixed by a single screw. Unfortunately these labels are easily vandalised and need frequent replacement. 

“Every six months, Sifiso needs to loosen the screw around the label so that the growing tree does not warp the label. He also replaces lost or damaged labels.”

The Mercury