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Widdringtonia

Endlicher 1842

Common names

Cypress pine, African cypress, sedarboom, sapreehout.

Taxonomic notes

A genus usually divided into four species:

Syn: Pachylepis Brongn. 1833; Parolinia Endl. 1841 (Farjon 1998). Widdringtonia has long been recognized as closely allied to Callitris, and from about 1880 to 1930 most authors submerged it in that genus. More recently, molecular studies (Gadek et al. 2000) have shown a slightly more complex relationship, placing Widdringtonia and Diselma in a clade sister to Callitris+Neocallitropsis. Those four genera have an exceedingly disjunct distribution (South Africa, southern South America, Australia and New Caledonia), suggesting a relict group with many extinct members (Farjon 2005).

Description

Monoecious evergreen shrubs or trees. As with many other species in the family, the leaves have distinct juvenile and adult foliage, with needle-like, spirally arranged juvenile leaves, and scale-like adult leaves pressed tightly against the branchlets (decussate or alternate). Pollen cones are ca. 4 mm long, terminal on short spur-branchlets. Female cones are woody, 13-25 mm diameter, solitary or in clusters on elongated shoots. Cone scales are usually 4 of equal size, rarely 5 or 6, arranged in a whorl, the scales opening to allow pollination and then closing again. Each scale terminates in a thick, woody, smooth to warty face, or valve, and each has several ovules at the base. The seeds are ovoid with a papery wing. The wood is fragrant (Palgrave 2002).

Farjon 2005 provides the following key:

1a. Seed cone scales warty along the margins only, rough and wrinkled on the outer surface, with a thick, robust boss 3
1b. Seed cone scales smooth, wrinkled or irregularly warty, with a thin, flattened boss 2
2a. Trees with a single, erect stem and thick, fibrous, soft bark, never sprouting from the base; endemic to Mt. Mulanje, Malawi W. whytei
2b. Trees with a single or multiple stems, often sprouting from the base, and with dense thin hard bark; common from Malawi to the Cape W. nodiflora
3a. Seeds angular-ovoid with rudimentary wings or nearly wingless; endemic to the Cedarberg Mountains W. cedarbergensis
3b. Seeds ovoid-oblong with two wings extending 3-4 mm beyond the seed apex W. schwarzii

Distribution and Ecology

Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The four species differ widely in their distribution, and this apparently results primarily from their differing adaptations to fire. The most commom species, W. nodiflora, coppices readily after fire, and thus can reestablish quickly in the aftermath of even severe burns. W. whytei is much less common; it has a thick, fire-resistant bark that allows it to tolerate moderate intensity fire. The two rarest species, W. cedarburgensis and W. schwarzii, have essentially no ability to tolerate fire and are confined to sites, such as cliffs and barrens, that burn rarely or not at all (Farjon 2005).

Big tree

W. whytei.

Oldest

I have only found data for W. cedarburgensis, but given its size, W. whytei could be equally old. Really, if it were growing on the right site, any of these species should be able to attain great age.

Dendrochronology

Ethnobotany

Observations

Remarks

Citations

See also

Farjon (2005) provides a detailed account, with illustrations.

Pauw, C.A. and H.P. Linder. 1997. Tropical African cedars (Widdringtonia, Cupressaceae): systematics, ecology and conservation status. Botanical Journal of the Linnaean Society 123(4):297-319.

Last Modified 2012-11-23