A special tree

The milkwoods are bearing fruit now, accompanied by that distinctive but indescribable scent which is unique to these marvellous trees. Some hate it, but to me it is the epitome of life in Kommetjie, where these trees have lined the coast for centuries. They provide shelter for birds and animals, people have camped under them, they are fire resistant and grow into the most beautiful shapes with gnarled trunks supporting an outer canopy of thick green leaves. To step inside the ‘cave’ formed by some of the more impressive specimens is to go back in time and feel sure that early inhabitants used these natural shelters, particularly in summer with their heavy shade.

The berries are beloved of the red-winged starlings, and purple splashes transport the seeds to places where, if conditions are favourable, new trees will grow. While many germinate, few reach maturity as their needs are very specific, ensuring that these protected trees remain true to their roots so to speak. The coastal towns of Kommetjie and Scarborough are really the last bastions of the milkwood, and strict rules apply to trimming or removal. If on your property, you may trim by 25%, and it must be said that this does encourage new growth and enable effective shaping if judiciously applied, but not everyone cares to adhere to the guidelines and a new beachfront property owner completely denuded the front of his property with a chainsaw in a matter of hours. Despite the horror and indignation of the locals, there was no going back to restore the trees to their former glory and the stumps have not recovered. All for a view from the porch rather than walking down a few metres.

I have managed to grow a few in my garden over the years, but they do not take kindly to transplanting and have to remain where the seed germinates – at least in my experience. My pride and joy was given to me by a neighbour in a tin (he had kept it for 10 years in this tin) some 40 years ago. It is now more than 50 years old and although there were some anxious moments during the big drought a few years back, when I had to keep it watered for survival, it has thrived since and is spreading beyond our boundaries. Further along the road, the residents have very carefully pruned a milkwood thicket into the most stunning forest that deserves to be applauded for its contribution to the conservation of the natural beauty. Take a look next time you go to the lighthouse!

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