Saving the Clanwilliam Cedar
On 17 May 2014, CapeNature joined Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat in helping to save the critically endangered Clanwilliam Cedar.
Members of the public, along with the Wildflower Society, the Cederberg Conservancy, and learners from Elizabethfontein and Elandsfontein primary schools also assisted in planting about 150 of these critically endangered trees at Heuningvlei in the Cederberg Wilderness.
The number of cedar trees has declined dramatically over the last 200 years, initially as a result of unsustainable harvesting, but more recently due to an increase of fires. As a result, the annual Cedar tree planting event plays a huge role in the revival of this precious species.
The Clanwilliam cedar
The Cederberg mountains are the only place in the world where the Clanwilliam cedar (Widdringtonia cedarbergensis: Cupressaceae) grows. It is actually a “cypress” and not a “cedar”, but does share some characteristics such as durable fragrant wood with true cedars like the Lebanon cedar.
Most living cedars are now found only in remote rocky areas between 800m and 1650m above sea level, where the mature trees and seedlings are protected from fire. The landscape is littered with dead cedar skeletons.
What happened to the cedar?
Most living cedars are now found only in remote rocky areas between 800m and 1650m above sea level, where the mature trees and seedlings are protected from fire. The landscape is littered with dead cedar skeletons. It is doubtful whether there are enough young trees to replace them naturally.
- Scientific analyses of fossilised pollen show a steady population decline over the past 14 600 years, possibly due to climatic changes.
- Seeds are produced only once the tree reaches full reproductive maturity after 20-30 years. This is double the interval between the current occurrences of fires (about 11 to 15 years)in the Cederberg fynbos area. Adult trees are killed by fire. Successful seedling growth after fires is thus vital.
The human factor
First the San, then the Khoi, and finally the Europeans aggravated the plight of the cedar. The use of fire to stimulate grazing and to flush out game destroyed many seedlings. The durable cedar wood was the only suitable source of timber that could be used for furniture, fences and telephone poles when the farmers settled along the Olifants River during the mid-18th century. This led to excessive harvesting.
The Clanwilliam cedar is an endangered species and is one of 43 conifer species world-wide that are the focus of special international concern.
Attempts to save the species from extinction include planting seedlings raised in the Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat nursery, back into the tree’s natural habitat.