Save our cedar

Working together to save Malawi’s national tree.

Mulanje cedar
  • Status of project

    Ongoing
  • Region

    Africa
  • Country

    Malawi
  • Topic

    Ecological Restoration
  • Donor

    Darwin Initiative

Malawi’s national tree – the Mulanje cedar (Widdringtonia whytei) – occurs naturally only in the Mulanje Mountain Biosphere Reserve in South East Malawi. Cedar forest cover has declined drastically in the last thirty years and as a result, Mulanje Cedar is now almost extinct.

A sudden and drastic decline in the Mulanje Cedar population is due to over-exploitation for timber. The wood is termite resistant, durable and is a preferred material for construction. The wood is also fragrant and used for carving. An increase in the frequency of fire has also exacerbated the problem.

The project is jointly led by BGCI, Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust and the Forestry Research Institute of Malawi, and works closely with local communities and officials. The project is funded by the UK government’s Darwin Initiative.

The project has generated new knowledge about Mulanje Cedar propagation, helped to restore populations of Mulanje Cedar on Mulanje Mountain and generated sustainable income from seedling sales for local people, some of whom were previously relying on harvesting timber from Mulanje Cedar.

Key project outcomes include:

  • 10 community nurseries established around Mulanje Mountain
  • 200 people trained in nursery management and enterprise development
  • Improved horticultural protocols developed for Mulanje Cedar propagation and restoration by working with international conifer and restoration experts from the BGCI network
  • More than 500,000 seedlings planted on Mulanje Mountain
  • More than 1,000 jobs created for local communities through the project
  • Increased awareness of Mulanje Cedar as a commercial timber species that can be sustainably produced and harvested to create a national market for tree seedlings to be used for plantations

This project has been supported by the BGCI network. For example, Dan Luscombe, a conifer expert from Bedgebury Pinetum (UK), delivered nursery management and propagation training. Members of the Ecological Restoration Alliance of Botanic Gardens, including from Chicago Botanic Garden, and Kings Park and Botanic Gardens, have helped to design restoration trials for Mulanje Cedar.

Restoration work is continuing on Mulanje Mountain and the project is now also investigating the properties of essential oil extracted from Mulanje Cedar and establishing community essence extraction enterprises to provide alternative and increased income to local people.