Rattan eradication nearing completion

By Marc Membrere 23 October 2021, 10:22PM

A project seeking to eradicate the Rattan palm, an introduced plant species that once threatened Samoa's agricultural farm land and native forests, is nearing completion according to an environmentalist.

The Rattan Palm is a climbing vine-like species native to southwestern Asia region. It has prickly spines which make its handling and removal difficult.

The palm was introduced by the Samoa Forestry Division for trial and observation, through a Food and Agriculture Organisation (F.A.O) sponsored programme, which was investigating two rattan palms' potential as a commercial crop series for furniture production in Samoa.

The 1990s initiative in Samoa is now considered a "failed furniture project". 

The plant is widely used in the construction of furniture across southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia where its cleaned stems, which appear similar to bamboo, are widely used to make furniture and handicrafts. 

But since its introduction to Samoa, the vine-like plant which can overtake and displace native species, has proven to be a major environmental problem and attempts to eradicate it entirely have, until now, proven unsuccessful.

Rattan's trial plantation took place at three main locations across Upolu: Vailima, Papaseea and Togitogiga.

After the plant's invasiveness and its ill-effects on usable land were discovered, those trial areas were destroyed back in 1998, according to records from that period.

But several of the plants escaped the initial eradication efforts and continued to spread. Its thriving threatens to render agricultural land unsuitable for cultivation and to overcome natural forests.

Rattan eradication efforts have been ongoing for 15 years. They are led by the Samoa National Invasive Task Team (S.N.I.T.T) which is working together with the Samoa Conservation Society (S.C.S) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E).

The plant has been eradicated from two sites - Vailima and Togitogia - and a team of 18 from S.N.I.T.T, S.C.S., M.N.R.E and the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa (S.R.O.S) conducted a "Rattan Raid" last Thursday.

In a telephone interview with the Samoa Observer last Monday, the President of the S.C.S., James Atherton, said removing the plant due to its spines is a high priority.

"We've been going there every year, M.N.R.E and S.C.S and other members of what's called [S.N.I.T.T], a group of people in organisations that are concerned about invasive species," Mr. Atherton told the Samoa Observer.

He said they hope to declare victory in the effort to eradicate Rattan within the next year.

"Every time we go find fewer plants which is good. This means we're succeeding and the other good news is that we're not finding any small ones anymore, we're only finding big ones," he said.

"It's a good sign, it's not spreading anymore. We've managed to get rid of all the fruit, it's a palm, it's got little fruits that the birds like."

In 2015, an intensive raid by nine members of the National Parks and Reserves team along with Mr. Atherton removed 751 seedlings and saplings from the original planted site, and three large rattans from an adjacent site where the team also discovered and tagged 52 large rattans for removal in the next follow-up raid.

During the Rattan raid at Papaseea on Thursday, only two palms were uncovered. 

"[There was] one five-meter-long one, and one about two meters. So normally we find more than that, so that's good news, the numbers are going down," he said.

"But we are not able to say we're done yet because there is still the possibility of a few more on some steep areas that we haven't been into for a while. So we kind of move through the forest with our GPS and you map it so we can see clearly."

Mr. Atherton stated that there are probably a few left in Samoa and is hoping that there are less than 10 of the plants remaining.

He also encourages the public to report any plant that looks like a climbing palm with spines to the M.N.R.E and S.C.S.

By Marc Membrere 23 October 2021, 10:22PM
Samoa Observer

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