Save Our Cedar – Working together to save Malawi’s national tree

Conservation problem

Malawi’s national tree, the Mulanje cedar, now only occurs naturally on Mulanje Mountain, and there are no mature individuals left due to overexploitation and fire.

Project Goal

Restore the Mulanje cedar on the mountain with support of local communities generate alternative sustainable income sources for communities in the area.

Why this species?

Malawi’s national tree – the Mulanje cedar (Widdringtonia whytei) – occurs naturally only in the Mulanje Mountain Biosphere Reserve. Cedar forest cover has declined drastically in the last thirty years and as a result, Mulanje Cedar is now almost extinct. A sudden and drastic decline in the population is due to over-exploitation for timber (it is a preferred material for construction) and an increase in the frequency of wild fire, the result of burning areas of forest for agriculture.

The Mulanje cedar is a high value timber tree. The steep decline in populations has resulted in a loss of income for the communities living around the mountain. An additional side effect from the loss of this previously dominant tree species is increased soil erosion and floods, due to rapid water run-off from the mountain during rainy seasons. Flash flooding resulted in the loss of 18 lives in 2016. The tree is now Critically Endangered and at risk of extinction in its natural habitat if action is not taken immediately to restore it.


Mulanje Mountain

Mulanje Mountain. Photo credit: Kirsty Shaw/BGCI

What are we doing?

The project is jointly led by GTC, Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust and the Forestry Research Institute of Malawi, and works closely with local communities and officials.

We aim to generate new knowledge about Mulanje Cedar, restore populations of Mulanje Cedar on Mulanje Mountain and generate sustainable income sources for local people currently relying on harvesting timber from Mulanje Cedar. We are establishing community nurseries will generate a sustainable income from the sale and planting of Mulanje Cedar seedlings.

Project activities include:

  • Establishing 10 community nurseries around Mulanje Mountain
  • Providing training in nursery management and enterprise development
  • Working with international conifer experts to improve horticultural protocols for Mulanje cedar restoration
  • Identifying the best places to plant Mulanje cedar on Mulanje Mountain and elsewhere in its previous range Malawi
  • Increasing awareness of Mulanje cedar as a commercial timber species to create a national market for tree seedlings to be used for plantations
Mulanje Cedar Launch

Official launch of the project, Mulanje, June 2016

Key achievements

Ten community nurseries have been set up and nursery management and propagation training was delivered by Dan Luscombe, a conifer expert from Bedgebury Pinetum (UK). A total of 150 community members are working in the ten nurseries, which have propagated more than 300,000 Mulanje cedar seedlings to date. In addition, eight test sites for planting Mulanje cedar have been established across Malawi to investigate if the cedar will grow well in areas outside the Mulanje Mountain Biosphere Reserve, with the ultimate aim to use the seedlings grown in the nurseries to restore an even wider area. We also launched an education campaign in collaboration with Bedgebury Pinetum and the NGO Starfish Malawi, teaching children in Malawi about the importance of conserving the Mulanje cedar.


Mulanje Cedar seedlings growing in a community nursery. Photo credit: Kirsty Shaw/BGCI

Contact details

For more information on this project, please contact


This project is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DfID) Darwin Initiative. Read the latest project update here.

Follow project progress on Twitter #SaveOurCedar




Did you know?

During the Middle Ages, Yew wood was used to craft long bows and spears as the timber was both strong and elastic.  This led to the exhaustion of Yew forests once widespread across Britain.