There are ordinary trees, and then there are remarkable trees; trees that are of exceptional importance for their majestic size, age, aesthetic, cultural and historical value.
These champions of the plant world have been honoured by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry by giving them national heritage status. Once listed as protected by notice, champion trees have special protected status in terms of the National Forest Act of 1998. No such trees may be cut, disturbed or damaged without a licence. A strict approach is taken to protection and licenses are issued only under exceptional circumstances, such as a tree posing a danger to life or property. Additional protective measures may be necessary for some trees, such as erection of fencing enclosures. The project also aimed at raising awareness about the national tree heritage, and to promote it as an asset for tourism.
The first evaluation of nominated trees took place by a panel of experts specially appointed by the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry in 2005.
The first individual tree to be declared as protected under the National Forests Act of 1998 in 2003 was a historic English oak tree, the only remnant of the old Sophiatown that was razed to the ground by the previous government when it resettled that community in the 1950s. This intervention was an attempt to stop the imminent destruction of the tree by a property owner, and protection was afforded only after the tree was severely pruned. This was the starting point of the Champion tree project, aimed at preventing similar destruction of other trees of national importance by timeously identifying and declaring them as protected.
Any person or organisation can nominate trees for Champion status. A nomination can also be obtained from the Department and has guidelines attached for the nomination process. Nominated trees may be indigenous or non-indigenous. Every nomination cycle starts on 1 August of each year, and ends at 31 July the following year.
At the end of each nomination cycle (every August) an expert panel evaluates all nominations and compiles a shortlist of proposed Champion Trees. This list is published for comment, and after consideration of public comments, a final list is published by notice in the Government Gazette and newspapers. In this manner more trees will be added to the list of Champions year after year.
Some of our monumental trees:
South Africa’s largest tree is the Sagole Big tree, Adisonia digitata, standing 38.2m high, a baobab with a circumference of roughly 47m, an estimated diameter of about 10.47m, 22 metres high with a crown diameter of 38.2 metres. It has been carbon dated and is approximately 1700 years old. (Tsipise, Limpopo)
Our tallest tree is also the tallest planted tree in Africa, measuring 97m. It is a Eucalyptus saligna, (Sydney bluegum) which was planted in 1914. (Magoebaskloof, Limpopo) The tallest grove of trees in South Africa and Africa are the Champion Grove of E. saligna trees planted in 1906 in the Woodbush Plantation, the ‘Woodbush Giants’, with a maximum height of 81,5 m (the height of a 30 storey building), measured in 2013.
The Big Tree in the Knysna Forest is Afrocarpus falcatus (Sickle-leaved yellowwood), also called the King Edward V11 Tree. It is between 600 and 800 years old, stands 36.6 m tall and has a trunk circumference of 7m. (Diepwalle Forest Station, Knysna)
The Post Office Tree, Sideroxylum inerme (Milkwood) in Mossel Bay dates back to the 1500s when it was used by Portugese explorers as a mailing system for ships to and from the East.
The Slave Tree, Quercus robur, is 204 years old, and situated at the Tourist Office, George