News24

Put the Cedar back in Cederberg

2009-10-13 10:57

Cape Town - The Cederberg in the North West Cape with its rugged mountains, flowering fynbos and ancient, indigenous landscape is a spectacular sight but, ironically, the endemic Clanwilliam Cedar tree - (Widdringtonia Cedarbergensis) after which the area is named - is virtually nowhere to be seen.

Historic manipulation of the natural veld through frequent burning to stimulate grass growth for livestock grazing, indiscriminate felling for buildings, furniture and telephone poles and more frequent fires (owing to environmental changes and climate change), has nearly wiped out these beautiful trees, and the species is classified as endangered on the global Red Data List and faces a high risk of extinction.

"The endemic Clanwilliam Cedar occurs only in the Cederberg Mountains, some 250km north of Cape Town, and it represents one of 1 000 surviving conifer species in the world," says Fanie Bekker, Executive Director of Operations: CapeNature.

The Cedar grows in fire-prone fynbos vegetation which burns every 11-15 years and depends on seed germination for regeneration of the species, but only reaches seed-bearing maturity after 20 years.

The impact of global climate change, concomitant with too frequent fires are inhibiting this process, says Bekker.

However, a new partnership between business and conservation hopes to address the plight of the Cedar by committing to replant the species back into the environment.

The Cedar restoration project

SA wholesale tree nursery Just Trees and sister company, red espresso - pioneers of Rooibos tea espresso - have given their long-term commitment to assisting CapeNature in an effort to save the endangered Clanwilliam Cedar tree from extinction.

"While we have been working hard to get both our companies profitable, we have been constantly aware of the need to support one or other needy cause," Carl Pretorius, the founder of both Just Trees and red espresso, told News24 in an interview.

"So when we heard about the plight of the Clanwilliam Cedar, while driving through the Cederberg, it was such an easy decision. Just Trees has the skills and infrastructure to assist in propagating the seeds and replanting them into the wild, while it also makes perfect sense to preserve the home of Rooibos, the main ingredient for red espresso," Pretorius explained.

According to Pretorius the first batch of 2 000 seeds has been sown on their 42-hectare nursery outside Paarl, and these saplings are already 5-10cm high.

"We undertake to re-establish one Clanwilliam Cedar for every twenty trees we sell. This will equate to at least 1 000 trees this year, which more than doubles the current number of Cedars being planted out each year."

Members of the public can participate in two ways:

1) When buying trees for their gardens, they can ask their landscapers for trees from Just Trees. For every 20 trees that they buy, 1 Clanwilliam Cedar will be planted back into the wild.

2) By supporting red espresso products and beverages, they will be contributing to all the Clanwilliam Cedars being planted back into the Cederberg by Just Trees.

CapeNature and Just Trees will replant the young Cedar trees in the Cederberg Mountains on a special planting day in May 2010.

"The actual date and site where the trees will be replanted will be selected by CapeNature," says Pretorius. "It will be an area that is suitable and that can be protected by CapeNature."

Members of the local Heuningvlei community as well as kids from nearby schools will be invited to assist in planting out the trees, Pretorius concludes.