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Saturday, April 4, 2020

Champion Trees of Stellenbosch

Our passion is that we love trees

As tree lovers, we were most excited when we got a copy of the latest Champion trees of South Africa book - "We are the Champions" by Enrico & Erna Liebenberg.

Our inspiration comes from the beauty of these giants, and the book that gave us some great tips of what is installed for us on our journey to explore and document each tree.  Luckily for most, if you look close enough, you will notice that there is a champion tree nearby you.

What will it take for Stellenbosch to list these champions on their Tourist Route Map?

We started our search for the seven champion trees of Stellenboch by visiting the local Tourist Information Center hoping to obtain a map of where the trees are located, instead, we only left with a map of the town. 

To our surprise, this Information Center had absolutely no idea what we were referring to when we enquired about visiting the famous champions of Stellenbosch. However, after showing them my reference notes we soon managed to get sufficient information to make a start. It was rather surprising that the information center had no clue about these National Monuments right under their noses, hopefully, this will change. 

Searching for the seven champion trees in Stellenbosch

With the town map in hand and some vague directions, we made our way to the closest champion, not more than one kilometer away. It was an enjoyable walk through the town with its quaint streets, tourists enjoying the many coffee shops, and restaurants. 

Ryneveld Street Oaks ( Fagaceae: Quercus robur ) English Oak
Most of the streets in Stellenbosch are lined with oak trees but these Champion Oaks that were planted in 1812 on Ryneveld street have been declared a national monument (known as South African Heritage Resource).



It is not just the English Oaks in Stellenbosch that have Champion Tree status.

Theological Seminary Tree (Araucaria heterophylla) Norfolk Island Pine
Knowing that there are other champion trees in the area, we went exploring for our next tree - a Norfolk Island Pine - on the list.  Still, within walking distance, we could see another giant from a distance, tall, majestic and undoubtedly the biggest tree around. Standing under the giant was a sight to behold and definitely worthy of its status as a champion. 

Back in 1826, the wife of the Magistrate of Stellenbosch graced their garden with the presence of this towering icon.  The name emanates from these old Drostdy buildings in Stellenbosch which became the seat of the Theological Seminary buildings (now the property of the University of Stellenbosch). 




Daunting Task Ahead

The Wilgenhof Grandfather ( Myrtaceae: Eucalyptus camaldulensis ) Red River Gum
According to our town map, this Red River Gum was a short drive away.  All that we had was the name of a building and a map, now we have to find this one lone tree, in tree heaven.   If you are unfamiliar with the town - like we were - with only a street map in hand, one never knows if you are actually going to find the next tree on the list.



Luck was on our side as this champion is located at the entrance of the Wilgenhof men's residence at the University of Stellenbosch. It is estimated that this glorious specimen was planted in 1883, and it is easily accessible to photograph. 


With our third champion tree ticked off, it was time for breakfast with the boys, before we headed to our next treasure.

Three Trees Documented, Four To Go

Ruth Steer Tree ( Myrtaceae: Eucalyptus camaldulensis ) Red River Gum
You will find this tree in Jonkershoek Avenue, named after the original owner of the property (Ruth Steer) where the tree was planted. Based on the size of this Red River Gum ( similar to that of the Bergzicht market tree ) it is estimated that the tree was planted in 1880. 


Planted on private property you will need permission from the owner to gain access to the property if wanted.   We were fortunate to have been given access by the current property owners to take photographs from a different angle.

Visiting an old Friend

Paul Roos Gymnasium Trees ( Myrtaceae: Eucalyptus citriodora ) Lemon - Scented Gum
Having had the pleasure to visit this champion tree a few years earlier, it was important that our boys also got to enjoy this grove of Lemon Scented Gums.  They may be Champions but they are still tricky to find with no proper guidance.  This grove of trees is located on the school grounds of the Paul Roos Gymnasium


It is interesting to note that the bark of these trees must be the smoothest surface of any tree that we have witnessed to date.




Just Outside of Town

The Infruitec Gum Tree ( Myrtaceae: Eucalyptus camaldulensis ) Red River Gum
The largest of the Red River Gums in Stellenbosch standing at 38,2 m tall and 37,05 wide its colossal.

This tree known as the Infruitec Tree, is located on the road to the Helshoogte Pass, within one kilometer as you approach from the Stellenbosch side. (Named after the institute that conducts research on deciduous fruit and vines.)



The Van Gogh of Stellenbosch

Bergziicht Market Trees ( Myrtaceae: Eucalyptus camaldulensis) Red River Gum
Everyone has seen this tree, spends hours under its cool shade, or knows about it.  One wonders how many people truly appreciate its true value?  It has no plaque or any form of recognition that provides the status that this 'National Monument' deserves.



This Red River Gum is a landmark champion tree of Stellenbosch and was our sixth tree of the day.  It must be the most famous of all the trees in the center of town. Situated on the busy Bergzicht Precinct ( now a taxi rank and the Bergzicht market) does not help for the perfect setting for a great image. We would suggest that you choose an appropriate time so that the area is free of traffic, thus allowing you to get the best angle. Its a behemoth, so finding the right angle - depending on the time of day -  requires space for you to move around.   It was not easy to photograph when we visited, so choose your day for this one.


A Great Reason to Return

As for our seventh Champion Tree (Ida's Valley Giant ( Myrtaceae: Eucalyptus ficifolia ) Red Flowering Gum), well we could not find any reliable information on this one and besides, we were all treed out.  We decided to give it a miss and leave it for another day...

So much emphasis is put on 'heritage' in Stellenbosch, but they have forgotten about these national treasures.  We can only hope that they will correct this by giving them the status and recognition that they deserve.  

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