Mulanje Cedar

Widdringtonia whytei

Family: Cuppressaceae

Natural Range: Malawi

IUCN Conservation Status

Critically Endangered (CR)

Mulanje Cedar occurs naturally only on Mulanje Mountain in Malawi. It was declared as Malawi’s national tree in 1984.

There are four species of the genus Widdringtonia, all found in Southern Africa. Despite the common name of Mulanje Cedar, Widdringtonia is actually part of the Cypress family (Cupressaceae). The suggested alternative common name of Mulanje Cypress is rarely used, and the species remains known as Mulanje Cedar by people living near Mulanje Mountain, as well as more widely across Malawi and elsewhere.

Mulanje Cedar is a high value timber tree. It is durable, termite-proof and used for construction and wood carving. The Mulanje Cedar represents an important source of income for local communities, but it is currently being cut down at an unsustainable rate.

Mulanje Cedar Seedling

Newly planted Mulanje Cedar seedling

It is estimated that cedar forest cover has declined by 37% in the last c.30 years, the main causes being over-exploitation and fire. The steep decline in populations has resulted in a loss of income for communities living around the mountain, increased soil erosion and floods due to rapid water run-off from the mountain during rainy seasons.

The tree is now Critically Endangered and at risk of becoming extinct in its natural habitat if action is not taken soon.

This has resulted in the Malawian Forestry Department producing a Cedar Management Plan (2014 – 2019) that, recommends that;

  1. logging of Mulanje Cedar on the mountain is prohibited for at least the next five years, and
  2. large scale ecological restoration of the cedar should be undertaken.

The proposed five year logging moratorium will cut off a vital source of income to local villagers who have been harvesting and selling the timber for over 100 years. Previous attempts to restore cedar forests and to grow the species more widely have been limited by its poorly understood ecology, pathology and horticulture.

The Global Trees Campaign has launched a project to try to address these challenges and secure a future for the Mulanje Cedar in its natural habitat. Find out more about the project here.

References

Bayliss, J., Makungwa, S., Hecht, J., Nangoma, D., & Bruessow, C. (2007) Saving the island in the sky: the plight of the Mount Mulanje cedar Widdringtonia whytei. Oryx 41 (1), 64–69.

Chapman,J.D. (1995). The Mulanje Cedar. Malawi’s National Tree. The Society of Malawi, Blantyre, Malawi.

Did you know?

The giant redwood, is the biggest tree in the world. The biggest individual tree is named ‘General Sherman’ and has a circumference near the ground of 31.1m.