Champion Trees in the spotlight

October 28, 2019

The Sagole Baobab, the largest indigenous tree in South Africa. Photo: Prof Coert Geldenhuys

Our number one indigenous Champion Tree in South Africa, the Sagole Baobab (Adansonia digitata), is only 20.5m high, but its impressive diameter of 10.8m and crown width of 40m result in a size index of 426, making it the largest indigenous tree in South Africa.

It also brings it into the company of some of the world’s largest trees, being the second thickest tree next to the Tule Tree in Mexico, a Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum) (dbh 11.62 m), thicker than the Boole Tree, a giant sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum (dbh 9.98 m) in the Kings Canyon National Park in California, which in turn is thicker than the famous General Sherman Tree, also a Californian giant sequoia, (dbh 8.25 m, height 83.8 m, trunk volume 1 487 m³), rated as the largest tree in the world by its trunk volume.

Just to put matters into perspective, the tallest tree in the world is a Californian redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) with a height of 116 m. By way of comparison, the tallest tree in South Africa and Africa is one of the four ‘Magoebaskloof Giants’ (Eucalyptus saligna) in Woodbush State Forest – it stands 81.5 m high.

The size index (SI) is calculated from height, diameter as well as crown width, so the tallest trees are not necessarily the largest.

Champion Tree evaluation
The Champion Tree Evaluation Panel this year had its annual evaluation meeting at Tshipise, Limpopo, in the middle of baobab country. 25 nominated trees were evaluated of which two trees qualified to be proclaimed as champions under the National Forests Act. They are a baobab on the farm Weltevreden near Lephalale, Limpopo (SI 273) and a strangler fig (Ficus cotinifolia) hailing from Yucatán, Mexico, growing in the Durban Botanical Gardens (SI 319). Both trees have impressive crown spreads.
Field inspections were undertaken to the Sagole Baobab near Zwigodini Village, which is a visitor attraction managed by the Mutale Municipality, and the Honnet Baobab, located in the Honnet Nature Reserve adjacent to the Tshipise Resort.

Although currently managed as a view site, the Panel found that the Sagole Tree (also known by locals as ‘Muvuyo wa Makhadzi’) is in need of a proper management plan to improve the protection, development and management of the tree and its immediate surroundings.

Champion Tree panel members at the Honnet Baobab (left to right) Theo Stehle, Prof. Brian Bredenkamp, Vukosi Baloyi, Steve Kotze, Shumani Dzivhani, Izak van der Merwe, Prof. Coert Geldenhuys, Cathryn Sehlata.  Photo: Prof Brian Bredenkamp

Likewise the Honnet Tree was found to qualify as a champion tree. It will be the sixth largest baobab tree in the country and will form an important visitor attraction to the nature reserve. The Tshipise Resort management will develop the tree as a view site once it has been proclaimed.

Not all impressive trees make it onto the national champion tree list, but those that don’t, can still be protected and managed as local champions, without being declared under the National Forests Act.
Just over 80 trees and groups of trees have so far been proclaimed as national champions. The challenge is to develop and manage them as view sites, and to get local authorities, communities or private owners to take responsibility for their protection and management.

*First published in SA Forestry magazine, September 2019

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