WATCH: The thousand-year-old trees of Cederberg threatened by climate change


About 200 years ago, there used to be millions of Clanwilliam cedar trees in the Cederberg region.

Today, there are roughly only about 13 000 counted trees left - a remnant of the last Ice Age that is battling for survival against climate change.

WATCH: Explore the wonders and secrets of Cederberg 

clanwilliam cedar tree on a rocky outcrop

A surviving Clanwilliam cedar tree by the Algeria Campsite waterfall. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

It grows in the highest altitudes of the world-famous rocky landscape, highly susceptible to fires due to its combustible oil. Unlike the fynbos that surrounds it, the cedar tree doesn't regrow or resprout after a fire - once burnt all that remains is a prophetic skeleton that eerily juts out on the rocky outcrops

Climate change has also impacted heavily on its germination rate. The cedar tree seed needs a lot of moisture to germinate, and the reduced rain in the region means it will lie dormant in the soil for too long, eaten by rodents and birds before it can finally bloom. And it takes 30 years for a cedar tree to bear its bounty.

But the species has one saving grace - efforts made by Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and provincial conservation authority CapeNature has a planting project that will hopefully ensure its survival. They collect seeds and then grow them in nurseries until they're strong enough to be replanted in the wilderness, full of hope of growing a sizeable forest.

ALSO WATCH: Bouldering fun for all ages in the Cederberg 

a couple of clanwilliam cedar trees on a rocky out

Cedar trees. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Once a year, a cedar tree planting ceremony is held with locals, staff and anyone interested in seeing this tree survive for future generations. The small Cederberg village of Heuningvlei becomes a hive of activity, with children using their small fingers to plant the seeds and the seedlings from the nurseries are driven on dusty roads to their final home.

rieldans group from elizabethfontein primary schoo

Elizabethfontein Primary School's rieldans troupe puts on a show for the planters. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Some seedlings get a Waterboxx - a  Dutch invention that traps the little water offered to the parched earth and drips into the young tree's roots to increase its survival rate. Once they are big enough, the Waterboxx is removed and used again on a new saplings. 

a small clanwilliam cedar tree growing next to a b

This small cedar tree is naturally occurring - it was never planted by humans. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Everyone gets a chance to plant their own in the slow-growing forest, and return enthusiasts check on the ones they have planted before, seeing if they managed to survive the harsh conditions of the Cederberg.

Many however do not make it - but that doesn't mean we should stop trying.

READ: The nicest damn cave I’ve ever slept in! 

clanwilliam cedar tree forest

The outskirts of the cedar tree forest that CapeNature and Bushmans Kloof is trying to grow. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

If you want to join Bushmans Kloof and CapeNature next year, keep an eye on their social media pages or contact them to get on the email list. The family-friendly event is free, but accommodation in Cederberg might fill up fast around that time. You would need a 4x4 to get to the event, but some transport arrangements can be made ahead of time.

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