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Conocarpus tree: Harmless plant or legitimate threat?

Ill-advised methods blamed for tree’s negative effects

KUWAIT: Though some value the positive environmental traits and qualities of the Conocarpus tree, there are individuals who voiced their concerns over planting it near populated areas due to the destructive power of tree’s roots. Several individuals and experts’ argued for and against the Conocarpus, leading to a debate on whether the tree was a harmless plant or a legitimate threat.

On their experiences, Kuwaiti nationals Fatima Al-Najdi and Khaled Mubarak said that the Conocarpus trees, which they planted near their houses, had spread roots all over the place, leading to property and infrastructural damages. Najdi and Mubarak said that the competent authorities must work on measures to prevent Conocarpus planting near populated areas due to the unpredictable behavior of the trees’ roots.

No evidence
While controversies are rising against the Conocarpus, these arguments are still based on claims and statements with no scientific evidence. In this context, researcher at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR), Dr Hani Al-Zalzala explained the nature of the Conocarpus’ roots, saying that they grow horizontally to trace water sources.
The roots benefit from the soil’s moisture for movement, said Dr Zalzala, adding that the toughness of the roots could easily penetrate solid objects, creating holes, which damaged steel water pipes and concrete infrastructure. Planting the tree is not the problem itself, the ill-advised methods and locations in which the Conocarpus trees were planted had led to the current dilemma, said Dr Zalzala who pointed out that uprooting the plant was no simple task, it should be done in cooperation with the concerned authorities or else the consequences will be grave.

Landscape improvement
The Conocapus tree is a plant species belonging to the family Compretaceae, said the official, adding that the tree was brought to Kuwait in 1988 to be used for various purposes. He went on saying that “In a short period of time, the Conocarpus had a clear effect on the development and improvement of the landscape in the State of Kuwait.” Dr Zalzala added that the Conocarpus growth exceeded many other known species because it could withstand harsh environment conditions such as high and low temperatures. Also arguing for the benefits of tree, the deputy director at the General Authority for Agriculture and Fisheries Affairs, Ghanim Al-Sanad, said that the Conocarpus are good for the environment and climate. The trees help to stabilize temperatures, improve photosynthesis, reduce noise pollution, and holds off dust.
On the other, Sanad said that there was no way to prevent the Conocarpus trees roots from penetrating manmade structures like service lines and other vital facilities. However, he affirmed the Kuwaiti authorities were committed to grow the trees in a way that would not harm the infrastructure or decrease water resources.

Health hazard
Commenting on the health hazard allegations reportedly caused by the tree, Sanad warned of accepting information without any scientific evidence or knowledge. The arguments over the Conocarpus is not only limited to Kuwait, some countries in the region have taken a decision to outright banned the trees from being planted near houses and other infrastructures, which puts things into perspective. Qatar has been aware of the serious effects of the tree on the urban environment and banned it from being planted near houses in 2010 after roots caused damages to infrastructure.
The same case in Iraq, where the authorities in the city of Basra imported Conocarpus from Kuwait in an effort to spread greenery in the area, but in similar fashion, the trees was also banned from being planted near populated areas. Back to Kuwait, the Municipal Council recommended in 2014 to stop planting trees in urban areas close to the ground services. The council launched an awareness program to display the correct way and places to plant this tree. With all these facts, the debate on the Conocarpus status quo might continue in Kuwait until a solid solution, based on scientific facts, was founded. – KUNA

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