Helsehoogte: a new highpoint for Stellenbosch- Feb 2010

It is common knowledge that the Norfolk Island Pine in front of the theological seminary is the tallest living organism in the historical centre of Stellenbosch. That might not be true for very long because there is a lemon-scented gum on Paul Roos Gymnasium property that is only about a meter shorter and the gum tree is growing faster than the “pine” tree.

Helssehoogte1

About a decade ago Prof Brian Bredenkamp measured a sugar gum growing behind the former commando headquarters in Onderpapegaaiberg. This was found to be 48 m tall and was then considered to be the tallest tree in the town of Stellenbosch.

Last year arborist Leon Visser decided to climb the ten tallest trees in Stellenbosch in one day and asked Brian to identify the trees he should climb and act as monitor for the attempt. Brian agreed on condition that Leon carried a tape measure to the tops of the trees in order to verify the measurements he’d carried out with instrumentation. In the process Leon discovered another two sugar gums that were 48 m tall, one adjacent to the Onderpapegaaiberg tree and the other in the green space below Devon Park.

As a recreational tree climber Leon is always on the lookout for very high trees and had been eyeing a group of sugar gums near the top of the old Helshoogte pass for some time. He suspected that one of these trees must be the tallest in Stellenbosch; it simply stood out in the crowd.  It stands at the edge of the old road above a wooded valley and on the Sunday before last Leon attempted to climb it but had to give up when it got too dark. He tried again last Thursday afternoon and topped out about 4m from the crown just as the sun was busy setting. He couldn’t really appreciate the spectacular view from the top because the wind was blowing rather strongly and he had to get down before dark.

Once on the ground he measured his climbing rope and felt sure that the tree was taller than 50 m so he called Brian, an expert in forest mensuration, in to verify his finding. Leon climbed the tree for a third time on Tuesday afternoon and once he was at the top of the crown Brian sent a tape measure up to him so that tree height could be measured with accuracy.

The official height turned out to be 53.4m, more that 10% taller than the trees in Onderpapegaaiberg. The girth of the tree at breast height is 3,8 m and the crown width is 21 m. The combined measurements result in a size index of 269, a considerable size indeed. A size index of 300 m would result in automatic acceptance as a National Champion Tree.

It is of interest to note that the crown width is the same as that of the Norfolk Island Pine at the seminary. Although the gum tree is taller the bole is more slender so in terms of size index the new tree is smaller. However it is as far as is known the tallest living organism in the entire Stellenbosch and has been dubbed “Helsehoogte”.