Colin Mills, compiler of the Hortus Camdenensis, died in late November 2012 after a short illness. As he always considered the Hortus his legacy, it is his family's intention to keep the site running in perpetuity. It will not, however, be updated in the near future.

Widdringtonia juniperoides Endl.

Frost-tender, graceful evergreen tree with sprays of linear, greyish juvenile leaves, to 2cm long and soft to the touch. Adult leaves are scale like, pressed to the stem.  To 18m.  [RHSD, Hortus, Hilliers’].

Horticultural & Botanical History

Introduced to Britain in 1758.  [RHSD].  Ernest Wilson supplies a detailed description of Widdringtonia juniperoides in its native habitat.  ‘Widdringtonia is the African analogue of the northern genus Cupressus and the two genera closely resemble one another in their vegetative parts and in the character and odor of their timber.  Some six species of Widdringtonia have been recognized and with one exception all have a very limited geographical distribution.

The subject of this note is confined to the Cedarberg Mountains near Clanwilliam and about 180 miles north of Cape Town.  It is commonly known as the Clanwilliam Cedar and gives its name to the mountain range, the Cedarbergen, on which it grows.  These mountains are from 4,800 to 6,336 feet high, composed mainly of Table Mountain sandstone and shale band, and are worn into bold cliffs, either bare or clothed with a scrub growth of shrubs and herbs in which coarse grasses are prominent.  Between elevations of from 3,000 to 5,000 feet above sea-level, this Widdringtonia is strewn over an area of about 30 miles either singly or in thin groves.  It grows in the rocky crevices and among the boulders, and often stands out in the face of the sheer cliffs.  It is doubtful if this tree ever formed real forests and in all probability always grew either scattered or in small groves just as it does today.

Accompanied by the Conservator of Forests, Mr. C. R. Ross, I made a special journey in March 1922 from Cape Town to the Cedarbergen for the purpose of studying and photographing this tree, and the one thing that astonished me, over and above everything else, was that the tree could flourish under such stark conditions.  At one time it was quite common on this mountain range but axe and fire, especially fire, have reduced its number to a comparative few hundreds.  Young plants are springing up everywhere among the rocks and if fires be kept out the species is safe.

When exploring this part of South Africa, Sir James Alexander remarks that a Cedar tree which was cut down in 1836 was 36 ft. in girth of trunk and out of its giant arms a thousand feet of plank was sawn.  No such enormous trees exist today.  The largest tree I saw, measured and noted down, was 40 ft. tall with a trunk 13 ft. in girth at breast height. […] The timtber of the Clanwilliam Cedar is perhaps the imost valuable of any African softwood tree but is now so rare that it is of little or no commercial importance.  The wood is oily and inflammable, white or slightly yellowish, well figured, fragrant and saws and planes well.  It is easily carved and eminently suitable for furniture and cabinet-making.  It has a strong cedar-like odor agreeable to the nostrils.  A church in Clanwilliam has pews, doors and the altar front made out of this wood.  In the ground it is almost everlasting, a quality which it shares with the wood of most Cupressus and Juniperus.  [Journal of the Arnold Arboretum vol.9-10, p.1/1928].

History at Camden Park

Listed only in the 1857 catalogue [C.93/1857].


Published Aug 06, 2009 - 03:39 PM | Last updated Jul 16, 2010 - 05:16 PM

The photograph is of trees in their natural rocky habitat.  Journal of the Arnold Arboretum vol.9-10, p.1, 1928.

Widdringtonia juniperoides Endl. | Journal of the Arnold Arboretum vol.9-10, p.1/1928 | BHL

Family Cupressaceae
Region of origin

South Africa

  • Widdringtonia cedarbergensis J.Marsh.
  • Callitris arborea Schrad. ex E.Mey.
Common Name

African cypress, Clanwilliam cedar

Name in the Camden Park Record

Widringtonia juniperina 

Confidence level high