“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now” – Chinese Proverb
Over the last two months I have been fortunate enough to be immersed in the bush every day. Nine of us have been selected to train to become new Londolozi guides. During our time so far, when we aren’t out in the field we have visited some incredible places like the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, the Barberton Geotrail and the Skukuza Nursery in the Kruger National Park.
During our tour around the nursery was where I first saw the tree; it stood upright, a large green canopy and a small notch cut out of the bark in its trunk. The Warburgia salutaris, commonly known as the Pepper Bark Tree, is a sought-after species in traditional African medicine, which has unfortunately led it to become a threatened species in South Africa.
Recent Western medicinal studies have shown the Warburgia in fact does have medicinal properties and it is now being grown specifically for the manufacturing of herbal remedies. An article I read on the tree not too long ago speculated it could be the next Goji Berry of South Africa! It is believed that it can cure chest infections, coughs, toothache, bronchial infections, can clear the sinuses and even malaria. Traditionally it was only the roots and bark that were gathered, but recent studies have shown the leaves to be in possession of similar properties as well.
It is so threatened that in the Northern Kruger National Park where some bands of these trees still grow, there are armed guards who look after them, to prevent the trees being cut down. This is because instead of only taking small notches out of the bark similar to what I had seen at the nursery, and using it in moderation, traditional healers cut down whole trees, further endangering the species.
On our tour to Skukuza we were lucky enough to see the tree-growing project they have going on at the moment. Cuttings have been taken from the remaining trees in the park and have been propagated with resounding success. Before we departed from the nursery we were given some Warburgia trees to plant at Londolozi.
Back at the lodge amongst the nine of us trainees decided what we would do with the trees.
Our first tree that was planted we decided to dedicate to the entire guiding team for supporting us, guiding us and imparting their knowledge onto us. The second tree we dedicated to the children of Londolozi, we hope as the tree grows so do they and that they follow their passions and dreams as we are all doing. The third tree was dedicated to the Good Work Foundation who will guide these same children and give them the education to follow the right paths and to help them in their growth.
Our final tree that we planted was dedicated to Nelson Mandela. He too encountered the Warburgia in 1996 when it was voted Tree of the Year. He planted one in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town, where it still stands today. I felt a sense of pride, as I am sure the rest of the team did, as we walked up the Freedom Way that Mandela once walked in the early nineties during his visits to Londolozi.
After visiting Londolozi Mandela said, “During my long walk to freedom, I had the rare privilege to visit Londolozi. There I saw people of all races living in harmony amidst the beauty that Mother Nature offers”
We dedicated our final Warburgia to a combination of Madiba, harmony, Mother Nature and Ubuntu.