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Champion Tree at Wits
14 September 2010

The massive bluegum on Wits West Campus is protected as a national Champion Tree and is part of Joburg’s mining town heritage.

JOBURG is world famous for its millions of trees, a characteristic that has earned the city the title “urban forest”.

Professor Kevin Balkwill chats about Wits University's gardening policy
Professor Kevin Balkwill chats about Wits University's gardening policy

Some of these trees, however, stand out from the crowd, among them the giant bluegum at Wits University. It has been declared a protected Champion Tree in terms of the National Forests Act of 1998 and may not be damaged or destroyed. The declaration coincides with Heritage Month.

It was declared a Champion Tree in March this year, with a ceremony in recognition of this status held at the university’s West Campus on Friday, 10 September.

Kathy Munro, the acting dean in the faculty of law, commerce and management, said: “Today we are all tree enthusiasts as we are celebrating a life that’s been here more than us … It is our plan to make our gardens beautiful for the students and to preserve them.”

A large Eucalyptus Grandis growing on the Gavin Reilly Green, it was planted in the 1930s. The tree was planted next to the main road used in the 19th century by the early traders on the route between Rustenburg and Joburg when the city was still a gold rush town.

It has survived to be counted as one of the largest trees in Joburg. It is 34 metres high - as high as a four- or five-storey building; its stem girth is 7,45 metres and its crown diameter is 38,7 metres.

Dr Izak van der Merwe, the co-ordinator of the Champion Tree project in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery, said: “We have over seven billion trees in South Africa, so the odds of a tree making it as a Champion Tree are high.

“For the Champion Tree project we have set criteria that the tree must meet, which include historic value and cultural value. There was an incident were a 100-year-old tree was cut down because the gardeners at a hospital here in Joburg complained about its leaves … We aim to stop such things from happening.”

The 34-metre high Champion Tree dwarfs a cameraman
The 34-metre high Champion Tree dwarfs a cameraman
Wits’ professor Kevin Balkwill spoke about the university’s gardening policy and his experiences of its gardens, both as a student in the late 1970s and as a staff member from 1988 until now.

“I think we are on to something very exciting that will be a leader in the way we will undertake new horticultural projects at Wits. These will be gardens associated with schools at Wits that not only beautify the area but are unique in their particular theme and most importantly, they will enhance the teaching and research of the schools with which they are associated.”

The Champion Tree Project is aimed at identifying and protecting individual trees of national conservation importance under the National Forests Act of 1998. Trees can be nominated on the basis of their size, age, aesthetic value, cultural and historic value, or importance to tourism.

There is a nomination form on the department’s website www.dwaf.gov.za. Guidelines for the nomination of trees are attached to the forms, which are also available in hardcopy. Nominated trees can either be indigenous or exotic.

Once listed as protected by notice, Champion Trees have special protected status in terms of the Act. No such trees may be cut, disturbed or damaged without a licence.

The Champion Tree project also aims to raise awareness about the nation’s arboreal heritage and to promote it as an asset for tourism. Regarding heritage, Munro said: “Heritage has to have meaning for today and has to be incorporated today to have meaning for the future.” 

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