History of the Silver Tree

Silver Trees are an iconic species of the Cape Peninsula and history of their use goes back to the earliest Khoi Khoi inhabitants who used it as fire wood.

Silver Tree behind Mathews rockery in Kirstenbosch. Photo Viv of Scenic South

Silver Tree behind Mathews rockery in Kirstenbosch. Photo Viv of Scenic South

From the time of the arrival of Jan Van Riebeek, the populations of Silver Trees on Table Mountain were heavily exploited by the Dutch settlers. Due to their ease of cultivation and rapid growth, Silver Trees were the first plantation trees grown in the Cape. The renowned Swedish botanist and father of taxonomy, Carolus Linnaeus, describes the species as ‘the most shining and splendid of all trees’.

Today the species remains one of the Cape’s most elegant species. Given their very limited natural distribution, their value as firewood, and their need for regular fire to stimulate their regeneration, it was not long before the populations of Silver Trees declined. Today the Silver Tree is ranked according to IUCN criteria as Endangered – ‘facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild.’


The Silvertree project

Based on the extensive knowledge available on the Silver Tree’s biology, history and conservation needs it was proposed to launch a ‘Silver Tree Rescue Project’. Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) was approached by the Centenary Committee for the Kirstenbosch/BotSoc 100th year celebrations for a possible collaboration. The Tokai and Cecilia Management Framework 2005-2025 of TMNP is required to plant Silver Trees (Leucadendron argenteum) in the areas cleared of pine trees for the restoration of this species. After an ecological assessment of the area it was decided to plant the trees only along the existing footpaths to allow for monitoring for regeneration of the natural seed bank. The trail is to run from Rycroft gate (Kirstenbosch Gate 3) to the historic Cork Oak planting where Southern Cross Drive connects to Rhodes Drive. Primary sponsors of the project: South African National Biodiversity Institute

(SANBI); Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc); South African National Parks (SANParks); E Oppenheimer & Son; and the Millennium Seed Bank.


Issued on behalf of Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden and the Botanical Society of South Africa by HIPPO Communications