The Wits Gumtree Is To Receive Champion Tree Status

By Nthambeleni Gabara

Pretoria - A massive gum tree, measuring more than 38 metres from side to side, is to become the latest edition to South Africa's list of Champion Trees.

The tree's massive crown shades part of the Gavin Relly Green on the Witwatersrand University campus grounds and is supported by a trunk of 7.5 meters in circumference.

The awe-inspiring tree will be unveiled as a Champion Tree on Friday by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Once listed, Champion Trees have special protected status in terms of the National Forests Act of 1998. No such trees may be cut, disturbed or damaged without a license. Licenses to have the tree trimmed will be issued only under exceptional circumstances, such as a tree posing a danger to life or property.

The department initiated the Champion Trees project to identify and protect trees worthy of special protection throughout South Africa. They are regarded as of exceptional importance because of their remarkable size, age, aesthetic, cultural, historic or tourism value.

There are more than 60 Champion Trees in South Africa.

The Wonderboom Wild Fig Tree in Pretoria holds the title for the largest crown, 61 metres in diameter. This thousand-year-old monarch consists of a mother tree with rings of daughter trees that sprouted over centuries from branches touching the ground.

In Sagole, Limpopo, there is a largest indigenous tree in the country, the Big Tree or Baobab with a trunk circumference of more than 33 metres can be found.

Other trees already declared as Champion Trees include a grove of very tall rose gum trees (Eucalyptus saligna) that was planted in 1906 by forestry pioneer A.K. Eastwood at the Woodbush Forest Estate near Tzaneen.

The two tallest of these trees have been measured by professional tree climbers in 2008, and have been dubbed the Twin Giants of Magoebaskloof. At a height of 79 metres they will tower above a 26-storey block of flats, and are officially the tallest trees in Africa and the tallest of the planted trees anywhere in the world.

Other famous trees already declared as Champion Trees include the Post Office milk wood tree at Mossel Bay where Portuguese seafarers left messages to passing sailing ships centuries ago and a three-centuries-old lane of camphor trees planted at Vergelegen Estate.

Most of the trees to be added to the Champion Tree list are exotic species such as oak and gum trees. Some oak trees have been planted more than a century ago, and the largest of these has a trunk circumference of almost 11 metres.

The gum trees in South Africa reach exceptional sizes, exceeding the sizes of other gum trees planted in all other countries except in their native Australia.

Outeniqua yellowwoods of the Knysna forests draw many visitors, such as the Tsitsikama Big Tree, which receives more than 80 000 visitors a year.

In the Goudveld Forest one of the new Champion Trees have been renamed the Dalene Matthee Big Tree, in honour of the author who wrote a best-seller series of historic novels about these forests and the woodcutters of the nineteenth century.

Another baobab tree will soon be added to the list of Champion Tree. This giant tree, the King of Ga-Ratjeke, towers over the Shangane village in Limpopo after which it was named. It replaces the Glencoe baobab near Hoedspruit - the second largest baobab in the country after it partially collapsed and was consequently delisted.

Any person or organisation can nominate trees for Champion status. A nomination form 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.

- BuaNews