The Mulanje cedar Widdringtonia whytei is the national tree of Malawi and endemic to Mulanje Mountain in the south of the country. This unique tree produces valuable timber that is durable, termite-proof and used for construction and wood-carving. Its value has led to over-exploitation and very few Mulanje cedar trees now remain standing on the mountain. This has resulted in a loss of income for the communities living around the mountain and floods and soil erosion due to rapid water run-off from the mountain during the rainy season.
The tree, whose population has declined by 37% in the last 28 years, is now 'Critically Endangered' and at risk of extinction in its natural environment if action is not taken soon. A project, jointly led by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) and the Forest Research Institute of Malawi (FRIM), is now underway to try and rescue the tree. Working with foresters, botanists, NGOs, governments, academics and local communities, the aim is to replant and restore cedar populations on Mulanje Mountain. The combined expertise and collaboration of these stakeholders will result in a sustainable outcome benefiting the species as well as the people who live around the mountain.
Bedgebury Pinetum’s Dan Luscombe was invited to Malawi in November 2016 to share tree know-how and expertise with the local foresters. He then visited again in 2018 to view the development of the local nurseries and share knowledge gained from experiments in the nursery at Bedgebury.
The Pinetum’s nursery, with its conifer propagation expertise is still involved in seed experiments with the Mulanje cedar seeds to determine the best techniques for growing this endangered species.
To find out more about this exciting conservation project take a look at the Malawi Edition of Friends Magazine published in 2018.