The Tallest Tree In Africa Crowned


By Tim Ross and Stuart Perks


In December 2011, the KLF Planning Department carried out a compartment verification exercise in order to verify the status of the non-commercial growing stock throughout KLF. During this exercise, three giant old pine trees were visited at Woodbush. Leon VisserThese pine trees ( Pinus oocarpa), stand together, deep in the indigenous forest and according to plantation records, were planted in 1914, making them 97 years old and were most likely planted by A. K. Eastwood himself – the first forester at Woodbush. Based on the age and size of these trees, it was decided to nominate them for Champion Tree status as part of the South African Champion Tree Project which is managed by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Two giant old gum trees (Eucalyptus saligna) called the “Magoebaskloof Giant’s” , which already have Champion Tree status are located not far away.

On the 14th and 15th of August 2011, these three old giants were climbed by Leon Visser from Trees Unlimited in Stellenbosch. He was assisted by Brian Bredenkamp, formerly of the University of Stellenbosch. The climb was made possible through the sponsorship of Stihl and KLF and organised by Izak van der Merwe from DAFF.

On the 14th, Leon climbed the first of the pine trees in good weather. First, a weight was attached to a thin rope and fired over the lowest branch using a giant slingshot. This rope was then used to pull up the main climbing rope. Tree climbing is extremely  dangerous and requires strict adherence to safety procedures, physical fitness and not a small amount of insanity! While Leon wastree monkeying about nearly 50 m off the ground, Stuart Perks and Brian Bredenkamp measured the circumference of the tree and the crown diameter. Height, circumference and crown diameter are three of the criteria that are used to calculate the tree index and determine if the trees are worthy to be included as Champions. The first tree climbed measured 49, 3 tall and had a circumference of 4, 92 m. Unfortunately not quite the tallest pine in South Africa nor the pine with the largest circumference but still pretty impressive.

The second largest pine was climbed in miserable weather on the 15th August but Leon’s spirits weren’t dampened as he quickly scaled the tree, even stopping regularly to answer calls from his cell phone while dangling 20 m off the ground!Conditions were poor and further complicated by a rotten section near the top of the tree. Finally, Leon neared the top and used a height pole to measure off the last few meters. This tree measured slightly taller with a height of 50, 3 m and a slightly smaller circumference of 4, 24 m. The third trees was not climbed as it is noticeably shorter, but the circumference and crown diameter dimension were recorded.

The trees were dubbed “The Three Matron’s” by the climbing team in honour of Woman’s month and will be nominated as a champion grove. The nomination will be discussed at the next Champion Tree Project meeting in Pretoria in November where it will be decided if The Three Matrons meet all the qualifying criteria to be called Champion Trees – Watch this Space!!!

Tallest Tree in Africa Crowned at Woodbush

IMG 3778With only half the morning gone, Leon decided to see if he could find an even larger tree than the two “Magoebaskloof Giant’s” which are currently the tallest trees in Africa at 79,5 m and 78,9 m respectively. A quick survey of the grove was made and a likely candidate was selected nearby to the other two giants. The weather kept getting wetter and colder throughout the morning and the water was running down the trunk as Leon prepared to set his ropes for the climb. It took five attempts to fire the weight over the lowest branch which was at least 30 m off the ground. It took Leon almost an hour to get to the top of the tree due to its height and the rain making the branches extremely slippery. Time seemed to pass even slower for the rest of the team on the ground as they tried to keep hypothermia from setting in. Flasks of coffee were provided for just such an emergency. Once Leon neared the top, he called for the measuring pole to be sent up. The tree was measured at just over 80 m making it the new tallest tree in Africa. The twin giant’s of Magoebaskloof have now gained an even larger sibling and must now surely be known as “The Magoebaskloof Triplets”.

Once Leon had safely descended to the ground, the climbing team and KLF support crew returned to the Woodbush Hut for a well-deserved braai. The first order of business was to defrost and everyone huddled close to a roaring fire with their clothes steaming. Excellent food was enjoyed by all and special thanks must go to Bettie Purchase for organising such a great spread!

Thanks to all who had a hand in making the day possible!