native: invasive: naturalized

native: invasive: naturalized 

A submission to Crossing the B1 Exhibition through Decolonizing Space and The Project Room

 Windhoek, Namibia

February, 2021

Background

In Windhoek, the apartheid construction of the city and the BI road laid a concrete symbol of division that continues to shape the lives and realities of community members. I'd like to say upfront, that as an American, I do not wish to impose my viewpoints, but to share on a deeply personal journey that may hold some value or critique within the conversation surrounding Windhoek and the B1. On my journey, I turn to the soft-scape of plants for guidance in how to recreate and redistribute opportunity, wealth, and wellbeing as a starting point in understanding and re-creating racial and community connections. This piece is merely a drop in the conversation surrounding countless encounters with racial divisions within urban, suburban, and rural communities globally, as well as in the US, including Chicago IL and Detroit, MI. Much of my work and life within the US has been in direct communication with the tensions and joys of contradictory experiences and challenging the roads of division by connecting with plants. I've found that reconnecting to "place" through plants brought me in close connection with my own ancestral lineage of trauma and through that recognition I've been able to find more compassion, understanding, and healing. It's by no means always graceful or easy or comfortable, but it's there and it's the most authentic truth I have lived.

 

When I slow down and take the time to observe, understand and connect to plants; the land as living beings, beyond the mental and physical hardscape that is imposed within preconceived design, I am able to connect, share, and grow amongst the trauma. As a third generation white Ukrainian-German-American immigrant from the US who has lived and visited Namibia, I recognize the complexities of emotions from a lineage of war, starvation, suffering, land grabs, colonized, colonizer, survivor, privilege, safety, hustler, Ex-pat, wanderer, "landless", "placeless," loss, gain, territorial, "earned," entitlement, community member, solo, hustler, artist, friend, daughter, Teta, patriarchal hierarchy, emotional abuse, codependency, acknowledgment, and the general sadness for a longing for re-connection. If you take a moment, do relate to these emotions too? Plants, the land, have been a continuous witness to all of our lives, including the ancestral lineages of Namibia, Windhoek, and the B1. By reconnecting to the soft scapes, perhaps we can be like the the weediest of plants, finding the strength to break through the concrete notions of preconceived hardscape that no longer serve our longing for unity, for connection.  

Suggestions to Observe

  • native-plants indigenous to a given area in geologic time that have developed, occur naturally, or existed for many years in an area.

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  • invasive-alien species is a species introduced outside its natural past or present distribution; if this species becomes problematic, it is termed invasive. 

  • naturalized-non-native (a plant introduced to a particular area in which it has never been found before, due to the intentional or accidental action of humans) that has the ability to adapt to a foreign environment and continue to spread without over-competing with native species. 

The terms "native, invasive, naturalized," themselves may bring up contradictory emotions as they stem from a lineage of Western-colonial science that quantifies, dissects, and  strives to explain and understand the truth of life, which at times comes in direct contrast with the beliefs in indigenous science. The terms themselves help us define the emotions often linked with conservation methods, but also, depending on our life experiences, can also resonate with how we perceive ourselves. I, as an American, may be perceived as "invasive," when visiting Namibia,  but perhaps to some of my Namibian friends I am "naturalized." How we, and plants are defined depends on our relationships. But just as the taxa show, essentially we are all organic matter that ebb and flow across the canvas of life. I chose to display two native, invasive, and naturalized plants, categorized visually through the lens on Western botany to again highlight the tension between our perceptions of reality, life and death, colonized-colonizer and the construction of our human relationships to plants.

 

Do you recognize these beings? Do you already have a relationship to them? DO you think they are beautiful? Ugly? Saddened by their captivity? Excited by curiosity? What emotions come up? Simply observe your response.     

Re-connection

Each species present lives amongst you. They are here to witness your life experience and you theirs. There may be contradictory emotions surrounding some, but just as within the contradictory labels within us, there is room for understanding, connection, and remembrance. Below is the western, and when available common, local, and folk terms used to name and describe the plant along with past human interactions. This is a flexible, growing document for educational purposes only. I'd be curious and happy to engage in conversations surrounding these plants species as well as others you personally have relationship to. This is not a comprehensive list nor thorough overview of each species, simply a taste of possibilities to connect. Please be 100% positive of identification before using or harvesting any wild plants. Consult with local experts and individuals who have relationships with these plants. Where you take these relationships is up to you, but I'd encourage you to notice their living forms as they witness you throughout Windhoek and the B1. 

 

From left to right, top to bottom

NATIVE

Nicotiana africana Merxm- common name:"African tobacco."

Deemed as the only recorded wild tobacco on the continent, African tobacco has been spotted in Avis Dam, Spitzkoppe, Brandberg, and in Northern Namibia, bordering Angola. There has not been any documented use of this ancient relative within Western context or found online. Perhaps there are relationships amongst local Namibians. I had the pleasure to sit with this being at Avis Dam in early 2020, in awe of their beautiful yellow flowers, striking sizable height, and introduced to me by a dear German- Namibian friend. 

Protea gaguedi J.F.Gmel- common names: African Sugarbush, African White Sugarbush, Afrika-witsuikerbos, Deciduous Sugarbush, Grootsuikerbos, Groot-suikerbos, Isiqalaba, Segwapi, Suikerboa, Tshizungu, White Sugarbush,  Witsuikerbos

African Sugarbush has been used in north eastern Namibia, but has been wiped out from over harvesting  the roots in trade. It is used as a traditional medicine and aphrodisiac, and still prevalent in many neighboring countries. After speaking with the National Herbarium of Namibia, there may be a replanting of Protea gaguedi through the Ministry of Environment. I'd be curious to know if anyone has or will try to grow African sugarbush as well as be in touch with anyone who has developed a relationship with the species. 

INVASIVE

Tecoma stans (L.) Juss. ex Kunth- common names:  trumpet bush, esperanza (Spanish for hope), yellow elder, yellow bells or yellow bignonia. 

Grown as an ornamental, this being is taking space and is considered to be on the invasive side. Their native range is Tropical and Subtropical America. Historically it has been used medicinally in the treatment of diabetes, digestive problems, control of yeast infections, as powerful diuretic, vermifuge and tonic. 

Opuntia phaeacantha Engelm. var. laevis (J.M.Coult.) L.D.Benson- common names: Prickly pear, tuna

This being's native range stems from Central SW United States to Mexico. Historically it has been used as a food source. The fruit as well as the stems and pads can be eaten through boiling, grilling, or roasting after the spines are removed. Some varieties of Opuntia are more palatable than others, but I can attest that they can be delicious! Especially used as a meat substitute in tacos. The prickly pear attracts the cochineal insect which feasts on the cactus ( nature has her balance). The cochineal has been made notorious in Oaxaca, Mexico for its brilliant crimson natural dye used in textiles. I myself have consistently harvested and processed cochineal in Namibia as well. There are local Namibian initiatives to curb the cacti invasion in Windhoek. If you’re interested, getting involved with Cactus Clean Up can provide more insights into the range of invasive cacti in Namibia and perhaps score you some natural dyes and delicious tunas! Who says caring for our environment can’t be delicious and loving?

NATURALIZED

Echinochloa crus-galli (L.) P.Beauv.- common names: cockspur, barnyard millet, Japanese millet, water grass, barnyard grass. 

There seems to be some debate over the origins of this species as two sources state it is either native or naturalized. The Namibian Indigenous and Naturalized book states Naturalized, so it's listed here as such. Thoughts surrounding personal belonging with mixed origins arises for me personally. This being has been nourishing humans as the seeds are used as a millet, and roasted to make a coffee substitute. Medicinally it has been used in treatments for spleen disease. 

Digitaria sanguinalis (L.) Scop.- common name: crop grass,

This species is native to Northern Africa, across Europe and Middle East. Historically this species has been used as fodder for grazing animals and its seeds have been cultivated as a grain source in Germany and Poland. The seeds can also be ground into flour, or fermented and used in beer. Medicinally there has been traces of use as a decoction for gonorrhoea. 

*** The images provided are sourced from the Kew Royal Botanical Garden online Herbarium Catalogue

*** Information in regards to species identification and labeling are derived from the following sources:

References:

 Cunningham, A.B., 1997. Review of ethnobotanical literature from Eastern and Southern Africa. Bull. Afr. Ethnobotanical Network, 1: 23-87.

Cunningham, A.B., 2007. Useful plants, commercialization and sustainable harvesting. Proceedings of the 3rd National Workshop on Promoting Indigenous Plant Products, March 26-27, Windhoek, Namibia, pp: 1-3.