Cederberg's orphan tree

"Mountains are not esteemed because they are high,

but because they have trees"

-Japanese proverb

cedar tree silhouette cederberg

The Widdringtonia wallichii

It's about an hour and a half's walk up into this otherworldly landscape before you see them.

cedar Widringtonia

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.

hiking in Area B of the Cederberg wilderness area

Even in deep summer delicate fynbos is in flower.

fynbos

erica in cederberg while cape trekking

There are occasional wildlife sightings.

spotted harlequin snake cederberg Jan 2020

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.

old Widdringtonia cedarbergensis

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.

old timber hauling infrastructure in cederberg

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.

Almost.

cone of widdringtonia cedarbergensis.

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

Widdringtonia wallichii pod (above) seeds (below)

Widdringtonia cedarbergensis seeds

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.

cedar tree cederberg wilderness area

"The leaf of every tree

brings a message

from the unseen world.

Look, every falling leaf

is a blessing"

-Rumi

cederberg reflection


  • See this page for Cederberg hiking.
  • More on the restoration project:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GL-dNp_ClE

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/13/africa/clanwilliam-cedar-cederberg-c2e-intl-spc/index.html