Malawi’s critically endangered national tree, the Mulanje cedars, grows atop a single imposing granite massif of Mount Mulanje, where illegal loggers are axing them to extinction.
Rumoured to be the inspiration for Tolkien’s Lonely Mountain, Mount Mulanje, with its perpetual cloud cover, has a mystical ambience. Its namesake tree, grows to 50 meters or 164 feet, has pleasantly fragrant pale red wood and its sap is poisonous to insects and repels fungus and rot. These qualities make the trees rare and precious, commanding a hefty timber price. Illegal logging is rampant. Freshly-cut stumps scar the plateau like a pox.
Natural regeneration is rare due to high seedling mortality, limited seeds and forest fires. When Dr Tembo Chanyenga of Forest Research Institute of Malawi surveyed the mountain in 2013, he found just seven seedlings that had matured into saplings. “”Artificial regeneration is the only viable option”, he said.
The Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) aims to reverse the cedar’s decline and has organised an unprecedented tree-planting campaign.