Don't forget Iviki Lezihlahla, Arbour Week - 1 to 7 September 2019

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 Image by ejaugsburg from Pixabay Image by ejaugsburg from PixabayTrees give life to humans and animals alike by producing two of life’s essentials, oxygen and food, and as we evolved, they also provided, and continue to provide us with shelter, food and medicine. Today their value continues to increase as we realise more and more the value they add to our modern lifestyles and world.

Trees are an integral part of every community, our streets are beautifully lined with them, and they offer their welcome shade to humans and all other creatures freely. And what would our parks, playgrounds, and backyards be like without them during our hot summer days? Humans may sometimes take them for granted, but they are not taken for granted by the myriad of creatures who inhabit them - why is this so?

Image by Peter Skitterians from PixabayImage by Peter Skitterians from PixabayThink back to your childhood, so many memories include the trees in your backyard or old neighbourhood. Perhaps you loved to climb them, or sway from their branches in the swing your dad made for you from an old tyre, and which kid didn’t love tree houses! Remember when you got married and purchased your first house? You were so proud and decided that it really needed a shade tree, so you planted one. Remember how eagerly you watched it grow along with your family, and not forgetting the family of house sparrows who have nested in it for many generations. The sentimental value of a special tree is simply immeasurable, and they affect us greatly. We make an emotional connection with the trees we plant, or just the ones that we see every day, perhaps from the window of our office or apartment.  Trees are magic, and we need to plant more!

Trees contribute to their environment not only by providing oxygen and improving air quality, they also help to conserve water, preserve topsoil, and support wildlife. What is called “climate amelioration” is essential, and in urban areas this basically means “to make them better or more tolerable. “ Both above and below ground parts of trees are essential to the eco-systems in which they reside. Their leaves absorb the heat of the city, keeping things cool in summer, and when the leaves fall, they provide natural compost. Trees also provide shelter from harsh winds, and their far reaching roots hold soil in place and fight erosion. As we are already experiencing the effects of climate change, it is becoming urgent to plan and design new landscapes for our cities with an integrated green infrastructure.

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. It 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. 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.

Cinamomum camphorum trees at VergelegenCinamomum camphorum trees at VergelegenWhy not do something different with the family this Arbour Month 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 Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), as the custodian of forestry in South Africa, is responsible for the Arbour Week campaign. At this time, because September is also Heritage Month in South Africa, they also focus on the country’s “Champion Trees.” These 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 Forestry, 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 in any way, and their products may not be owned, transported, exported or sold without a licence.

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 4.48m and a crown diameter of more than 30m. 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.

The Vergelegen Historic Homestead in Somerset West boasts one of the oldest living oaks in South Africa, planted during Willem Adriaan van der Stels ownership, and dating back to about 1700 and 1706. Vergelegen is also renowned for its giant Camphor trees, and the five historic camphor trees, "guarding" the historic Vergelegen Homestead are also believed to have been planted by van der Stel. They were declared National Monuments in 1942, and all the other camphor trees on the Estate are all seedlings from these five magnificent specimens. Read more here...

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.)

The Sagole Baobab (or Big Tree near Thohoyandou) stands proud with its fat and sturdy trunk and its gnarled branches, so intertwined and entangled that they have become one in places. It’s smooth greyish bark reflecting the midday sun. This baobab exhumes strength and it’s no wonder the Venda people call it “muri kunguluwa” - the tree that roars, after the sound the wind creates when playing between the branches that spread out haphazardly up into the sky. Read its fascinating story 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. See beautiful photos here....

Quercus robur at VergelegenQuercus robur at VergelegenThere 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.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. This is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.” For this reason we encourage all South Africans to celebrate our indigenous trees by getting together as communities to plant as many trees as possible. And if you don’t have space for a tree, there are thousands of beautiful indigenous shrubs to choose from. Even a couple of indigenous groundcovers will do - plant anything indigenous, no matter how small - it is the intention 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.