There is increasing pressure from communities neighbouring protected areas in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, to harvest resources from these areas. For example, Hyphaene coriacea Geartn. (vegetable ivory palm) leaves are extensively used by Zulu people for commercial and subsistence craftwork. This study investigates the effect of varying leaf harvest intensities on leaf production of Hyphaene coriacea in the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and aims to provide some management guidelines for sustainable use. Replicate plots subjected to three different harvest intensities were established and numbers and lengths of unopened leaves were monitored over four years. Results suggest that a harvest intensity of one leaf stem−1 year−1 would be sustainable. This is equivalent to 34% of calculated annual production. The 650 ha harvest area is estimated to produce 191 750 leaves year−1 (4793 bundles) which could be harvested sustainably.
The effects of leaf harvest, even at maximum harvest rate, on leaf production over the four year study period appear negligible although there was a slight decline over time in leaf production of trees subjected to high harvest intensity. A slight increase in leaf production was observed at moderate levels of harvest intensity.
For the long term sustainable use of H. coriacea leaves, an adaptive management approach is recommended. This approach should be formulated with the users to include access rights and responsibility, economic benefit to the harvesters and monitoring of plant response to leaf harvest.