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Arbour Week, Iviki Lezihlahla - 1 to 7 September

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Cabbage Tree (Cussonia) Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaCabbage Tree (Cussonia) Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaNational Arbour Week is a time when all South Africans celebrate our indigenous trees by getting together as communities to plant as many trees as possible. Arbour Day was first celebrated in South Africa in 1983, capturing the imagination of people who recognised the need for raising awareness of the value of trees in our society. Trees not only beautify and shade our land; they help prevent soil erosion by stabilising the soil and can be a valuable food source for humans and livestock. They also provide shelter and food for all kinds of wildlife, and many are used in traditional medicines and ceremonies.

The enthusiasm of all South Africans who understood the importance of this event inspired the national government, in 1999, to extend the celebration of Arbour Day to National Arbour Week. Trees are much needed in disadvantaged communities who often live in barren areas, and arbour week provides the opportunity for businesses, small and large, as well as schools and community centres to get involved in raising awareness for the need to plant and grow trees throughout South Africa. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), as the custodian of forestry in South Africa, is responsible for the campaign.

Today, trees play an even more vital role in the health and well-being of our communities and we need to continue to raise awareness of the value of trees in our society. Arbour Week is a wonderful opportunity to teach our children about the importance of trees in our environment and the vital role they will play in their future.

Indigenous trees, and especially those trees which are restricted to a certain area only, and which are called “endemic” to that region, will naturally grow well there because they are already adapted to the climate and rainfall patterns of the region. Endemic, indigenous trees are therefore the best choice for gardeners, and especially for water wise gardens.

Trunk of Wild Fig Tree (Ficus) Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaTrunk of Wild Fig Tree (Ficus) Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaTrunk of Wild Fig Tree (Ficus) Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaBecause September is also heritage month in South Africa, the department of forestry also focuses on the country’s “Champion Trees” which include some of the oldest, largest and culturally significant trees. Both indigenous and non-indigenous trees can be nominated for Champion status, and the trees are listed according to size criteria like height and trunk circumference, or their historic value and age. Currently, more than 70 trees and groups of trees have been declared national “Champion Trees” by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, which means they are fully protected under the National Forests Act of 1998. Under the declaration, tree species listed as protected may not be cut, disturbed or damaged and their products may not be owned, transported, exported or sold without a licence.

Why not do something different with the family this arbour week and spend a day visiting one of our champion trees, there’s sure to be one close to where you live? Schools can also use arbour week as an opportunity to introduce the children to a local champion and teach them the importance of protecting all trees, because even the smallest little tree planted today can become the next champion tree!

The first tree to be declared as protected under the Champions Trees Act in 2003 was an English Oak (Quercus robur) growing in Sophiatown, Johannesburg. It was estimated to be over a century old and was visible from several street blocks away, with a trunk girth of 4.48 metres and a crown diameter of more than 30 metres. This tree is of cultural significance because it was under its leafy branches that residents and political activists used to gather for their meetings, before they were forcibly relocated and the town was turned into a whites-only suburb under apartheid. In fact, the Champions Tree Act was initiated in an attempt to stop the destruction of this tree by a property owner. Unfortunately the tree fell down in 2008 but its trunk can still be seen at the Trevor Huddlestone Centre.

Other Champion Trees include massive Australian Moreton Bay Fig Trees (Ficus macrophylla). One of these was given champion status in 2008 and can be seen in the Arderne Gardens in Claremont, Cape Town. It is the largest tree in the Western Cape and one of the four largest trees in South Africa, with a height of 32.5m and a stem circumference of 11.89m. See a picture of it and other Champion trees at Ardene Gardens. Another beautiful specimen can be found standing on the campus of the University of Cape Town and yet another at the Pretoria Zoological Gardens.

In Pretoria, the thousand year old Wonderboom Wild Fig Tree (Ficus salicifolia) stands supreme with the largest crown of all the champion trees, with a whopping diameter of 61 metres! Take a look here.

The Mosselbay “Post Office Tree” is a Milkwood (Sideroxylon inerme) of great historical importance. It is believed that an old shoe was placed underneath it in which messages were exchanged by Portuguese seafarers in the 16th century. Read the fascinating story here.

The Outeniqua Yellowwoods of the Knysna forests draw many visitors, with trees such as the Tsitsikamma Big Tree (Podocarpus falcatus) receiving more than 80 000 visitors a year. This tree is estimated to be between 600 and 800 years old and well worth visiting to see its distinctive yellowwood leaves stretching skywards, to tower over the other trees in the canopy. Read more here.

In the Goudveld Forest near Knysna, Western Cape, one of the more recent Champions has been renamed the Dalene Matthee Big Tree. Dalene Matthee wrote a best-seller series of historic novels about life in the Knysna forests in the 19th century, winning numerous literary prizes for her books which include: Kringe in ’n Bos (Circles in a forest) and Fiela se Kind (Fiela's Child).

Tragically, the largest indigenous tree in South Africa, the Sagole Baobab Tree (Adansonia digitata) found in Limpopo, with a height of 22 metres and trunk circumference of more than 33 metres toppled over on the morning of 13 April 2017, but the property is still open and the owners encourage visitors to come and have a braai and a beer in front of the brave baobab. Find out more here.

According to the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, a Sydney Bluegum Tree (Eucalyptus saligna) is currently the tallest tree in Africa, measuring 80 metres. The previous South African record was held by two Bluegum trees measuring 79 metres. The Sydney gum towers above a stand of gum trees planted in 1906 in the Woodbush Forest Estate in Limpopo province.  Three giant Mexican pine trees (Pinus oocarpa) grow nearby, measuring over 50 metres - few pine trees anywhere in the world reach these dimensions! Take a look here.

There are far too many champions to mention here, so to find one closest to you, here is a full Champion Tree List we found for you.

Camel Thorn Tree (Vachellia erioloba)Camel Thorn Tree (Vachellia erioloba)Camel Thorn Tree (Vachellia erioloba)We encourage all South Africans to plant an indigenous tree this Arbour Week, and if you don’t have space for a tree, there are thousands of beautiful shrubs to choose from. Even a couple of indigenous groundcovers will do - plant anything indigenous, no matter how small, it is the intent that matters, not the size of the plant. Get into the spirit of this week and together we will create a greener future together – one garden at a time!

Every Arbour Week celebration highlights two specific trees; one common and one rare species. In 2017, South Africans will celebrate the Ebony Tree (Euclea pseudebenus) as the rare tree and Buffalo Thorn (Ziziphus mucronata) as the common tree.

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