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The challenges of growing Mulanje cedar

Ruben Foquet, WeForest
This drone video shows a mature Mulanje cedar, Malawi’s national tree, which is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Since our project in Mount Mulanje started, we have made great progress towards restoring the afromontane forest with the endemic Mulanje cedar, but it’s not without its challenges! Cedars grow from cones that are produced on mature trees (think of pine cones), but they don’t produce them reliably each year, so seed collection is unpredictable. There are currently two sites in Malawi, far from our project site, where cedars have been planted and which have stands of mature cone-producing cedars suitable for seed collection. Germination from cedar cones is also affected by soil type and condition, watering regime and even the depth at which the seeds are sown.

After germination, handling during transplanting can also affect the sensitive seedlings. Growing cedar on top of Mulanje poses additional challenges: fire and frost. Continuous maintenance on the mountain to maintain fire breaks and carry out weeding and companion planting to offer protection is crucial for the survival of the growing seedlings.

WeForest is partnering with the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust, the Forestry Research Institute of Malawi and Botanical Gardens Conservation International on a research programme on cedar propagation. Together with a team of ecologists and plant specialists from around the world, we have devised an extensive, controlled trial to test the variables that influence cedar survival. As this research goes on, we use the results to inform the sowing and planting strategies in the nurseries and on the mountain.