Cederberg's orphan tree
"Mountains are not esteemed because they are high,
but because they have trees"
The Widdringtonia wallichii
It's about an hour and a half's walk up into this otherworldly landscape before you see them.
Here and there, old cedar tree survivors, some with fine green foliage; and their remnant burnt-out brethren, bare, bony, still clawing at the towering rocky landscape.
Even in deep summer delicate fynbos is in flower.
There are occasional wildlife sightings.
Cederberg's cedars, or Widdringtonia wallichii (preveiously Widdrintonia cedarbegensis), are found nowhere else on earth. They survived an ice age about 250 million years ago, and have since adapted as the world warmed again, and over time the soil became acidic and low in nutrients. Perhaps that is why cedars are slow reproducers - though that's more to do with their resin, which also means cedars easily catch fire.
Through the torque of time, a harded-wooded tree was created. Dead horizontal branches remain strong years later. Great heights and circumferences have been recorded. Some have lived up to 400 years, it's estimated.
The Cape Floral Region is mostly heath-like and bushy vegetation. There are few other indigenous sources of timber. And while the people who were originally of this place painted their existence onto rocks, two hundred years or so ago came people who had land to fence, spoke over wires on poles, and built the pews and pulpits of their sacred places out of wood.
Entire cedar valleys were felled and hauled down. (The trails here are really well made.) Plundered cedar got turned into telegraph posts, furniture, etc.
That was that.
Projects to regrow the cedars are under-resourced.
A cedar has to make it to about thirty years, surviving the challenges of climate change and water shortages, before it'll produce seed-baring cones. Once fallen, the cones dry out and release seeds.
Then there are other challenges. Small animals eat them and the shoots of rare cedar saplings.
Lower-slope fynbos growing into areas where the cedars were felled, have adapted to higher altitudes, providing interim foliage. If and when cedars do manage to grow back, the fynbos may be hard to dislodge. And fynbos brings fire to the fight.
Widdringtonia wallichii pod (above) seeds (below)
And the resin thing?
In other tree species the forest-elders nurture nearby saplings by providing shade, hooking them up to the existing subterranean mycorrrhizal networks, and whatever else.
It's the opposite with local cedars. They secrete resin which humans have used traditionally as poultices for rheumatism and gout.
In the soil where resin has fallen, seeds don't germinate. Not until the parent tree is gone.
"The leaf of every tree
brings a message
from the unseen world.
Look, every falling leaf
is a blessing"
- See this page for Cederberg hiking.
- More on the restoration project: