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Widdringtonia whytei Rendle

Trans. Linn. Soc. London, Bot. 4: 60 (1894).
Chromosome number
2n = 22
Widdringtonia nodiflora (L.) Powrie var. whytei (Rendle) Silba (1990).
Vernacular names
Mlanje cedar, mulanje cedar, mlanje cypress (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Widdringtonia whytei is endemic to Mount Mulanje in Malawi. It has been grown in plantations on Zomba Mountain in Malawi and occasionally elsewhere.
Widdringtonia whytei, the national tree of Malawi, has been one of the most important sources of softwood in Malawi for almost 100 years. The wood has been used extensively for construction, furniture, panelling and fence posts. It has now become a scarce ‘prestige wood’, highly valued for construction and boat building. It is used for making hard-wearing roof shingles that weather to an attractive silver-grey, and it has been used for pencil manufacture. It is used for making carvings, boxes and furniture sold to tourists.
Production and international trade
The trade in the wood of Widdringtonia whytei has much diminished and is confined now to a local scale.
The heartwood is yellow or pale brown and is clearly demarcated from the narrow pale sapwood. The grain is straight, texture fine and even. The wood is resinous and has a persistent cedar-like odour. The density of the wood is 530–610 kg/m³ at 17.6% moisture content. The wood works easily. It does not take paint well. Planed surfaces have a satiny sheen. The heartwood is durable and highly resistant to termites, borers and fungi. The sapwood is not susceptible to attack by Lyctus beetles.
The wood fibres are (3.8–)4.4(–5.1) mm long, and the wood contains about 36% lignin, which is relatively high compared to other softwoods. The wood can be used for papermaking, but the high lignin content could give problems during processing. Steam-distillation of the sawdust gives a yield of about 10 ml essential oil per 100 g moisture free material. The main constituents of the essential oil are thujopsene (32%), cedrol (14%), thujopsadiene (7%), widdrol (5%) and cuparene (4%).
Evergreen, monoecious, large tree up to 50 m tall; bole usually straight, branchless for up to 20 m, up to 150(–200) cm in diameter; outer bark grey-brown, smooth in young trees, thick, spongy, fissured and exfoliating in long strips in older ones, inner bark red-brown; crown pyramidal, eventually irregular or flat-topped; branches spreading or ascending. Leaves decussately opposite on smallest branchlets, becoming spirally arranged on thicker ones, simple, scale-like, on ultimate branchlets ovate to rhombic, 1.5–3.5 mm × 1–1.5 mm, on leading branchlets up to 10 mm × 4 mm, apex obtuse to acute, upper margins minutely toothed, dull pale green. Male cone terminal on short lateral branchlets, solitary, oblong, 3–6 mm × 1.5–2 mm, yellowish green when young, yellowish brown to brown when mature; scales 4–8, decussately opposite, peltate, each bearing 3–5 pollen sacs. Female cone lateral, sometimes terminal, solitary or grouped, irregularly globose when mature, 15–22 mm in diameter, brown or blackish brown, 3–10(–18)-seeded; scales 4(–6), decussately opposite, woody, oblong, outer surface smooth to rough. Seeds ovoid, flattened, 5–7 mm long, blackish brown or black, with 2 wings up to 3 mm wide.
Other botanical information
Widdringtonia comprises 4 species, all in southern Africa. Widdringtonia whytei has sometimes been included in the more widespread Widdringtonia nodiflora (L.) Powrie (mountain cypress or Cape cypress), but it is now considered a separate species. Widdringtonia nodiflora is a multi-stemmed shrub or narrow-crowned small to medium-sized tree up to 25 m tall, with a bole diameter up to 50 cm. It is distributed from Malawi (including Mount Mulanje) through Zimbabwe and Mozambique to the Cape Province in South Africa, and occurs at 100–2600 m altitude, predominantly in cool and wet mountain fynbos. In contrast to Widdringtonia whytei, it sprouts from the base after fire and it is common in fire-prone habitats. Widdringtonia nodiflora is economically much less valuable than Widdringtonia whytei; it is too small to become important as a source of timber, and its wood has a lower density. It is used for hut construction, and probably for firewood as well. Extensive plantations of Widdringtonia nodiflora have been established, under the wrong assumption that they were Widdringtonia whytei. In Malawi the first plantations were established on Zomba plateau around 1900, but, as elsewhere, an unintended mixture of Widdringtonia whytei and Widdringtonia nodiflora was sown. As the slower growing Widdringtonia whytei was at a disadvantage, Widdringtonia nodiflora became the dominant species.
Wood-anatomical description (IAWA softwood codes):
Growth rings: (40: growth ring boundaries distinct); (41: growth ring boundaries indistinct or absent); 43: transition from earlywood to latewood gradual. Tracheids: 44: tracheid pitting in radial walls (predominantly) uniseriate (earlywood only); (45: tracheid pitting in radial walls (predominantly) 2-seriate (earlywood only)); 56: torus present (pits in earlywood tracheids only); 60: warty layer visible under the light microscope. Axial parenchyma: 72: axial parenchyma present; (73: axial parenchyma diffuse (evenly scattered throughout the entire growth increment)); 74: axial parenchyma tangentially zonate; 76: transverse end walls smooth. Ray composition: 85: end walls of ray parenchyma cells smooth (unpitted); 87: horizontal walls of ray parenchyma cells smooth (unpitted). Cross-field pitting: 93: cross-field pits cupressoid; 98: 1–3 pits per cross-field (earlywood only). Ray size: (102: average ray height very low ( 4 cells)); 103: average ray height medium (5–15 cells); 107: ray width exclusively uniseriate.
(P. Baas & I. Heinz)
Growth and development
The growth of Widdringtonia whytei in natural stands is slow. It does not coppice after felling or above-ground destruction (e.g. by fire or rodents). The seeds are dispersed by wind.
Stands of about 50 years old in Malawi had a mean bole diameter of 42 cm.
Widdringtonia whytei occurs scattered in Afromontane forest at 1800–2550 m altitude, in regions with abundant precipitation, much of it as fog. Nowadays it mainly occurs in fire-protected valleys. It is a pioneer species unable to regenerate under closed canopy. Therefore, seedlings are either found occasionally on forest edges, or in larger numbers after a fire or landslide. Young trees are killed by fire, but older ones may survive mild fires due to their thick bark.
Propagation and planting
Widdringtonia whytei is easily propagated from seed.
Diseases and pests
The aphid Cinara cupressi has become a threat in Malawi and elsewhere; it causes local chlorosis and abscission of branchlets, and may kill young plants.
The wood has been heavily exploited in Malawi because of its general utility.
Genetic resources
Widdringtonia whytei is acutely threatened with extinction. Important threats are overexploitation, fire, poor regeneration, and invasion of its native area by Pinus patula Schltdl. & Cham. It is classified as endangered in the 2006 IUCN Red list of threatened species. It is officially protected and licences are available only for the exploitation of dead trees. Illegal felling or killing of trees is known to take place, as the timber is highly valued and fetches high prices.
The wood of Widdringtonia whytei is of high quality: it is strong, durable and fragrant. The species is, however, severely endangered, and the exploitation of living trees is prohibited. Effective conservation of the remaining stands is urgently needed. Replanting on Mount Mulanje in Malawi is advocated, but the growth rate of the tree is slow. Mixed planting with Widdringtonia nodiflora should be avoided. The essential oil from sawdust of Widdringtonia whytei will not become important in international trade, because the production potential is too low, but it may find some application in locally manufactured fragrance products.
Major references
• Chalk, L., Burtt Davy, J. & Desch, H.E., 1932. Some East African Coniferae and Leguminosae. Clarendon Press, Oxford, United Kingdom. 68 pp.
• Chapman, J.D., 1994. Notes on mulanje cedar - Malawi’s national tree. Commonwealth Forestry Review 73(4): 235–242.
• Chapola, G.B.J., 1990. Wood properties of wide and narrow-crowned variants of Widdringtonia nodiflora Powrie (mulanje cedar) growing at Zomba Mountain, Malawi. South African Forestry Journal 154: 47–50.
• Farjon, A., 2005. A monograph of Cupressaceae and Sciadopitys. Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 643 pp.
• Green, C.L., Wood, A.B. & Robinson, J.M., 1988. A re-examination of mulanje cedarwood oil (Widdringtonia whytei Rendle). Flavour and Fragrance Journal 3(3): 105–108.
• Pauw, A., 1998. Will a new name save Malawi’s cedars? SABONET News 3(1): 33–34.5
• Pauw, C.A. & Linder, P., 1997. Tropical African cedars (Widdringtonia, Cupressaceae): systematics, ecology and conservation status. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 123: 297–319.
• UNEP-WCMC, 2006. Contribution to an evaluation of tree species using the new CITES Listing Criteria. UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, United Kingdom. [Internet]. species/tree_study/ contents1_en.htm. Accessed October 2006.
• Williamson, J., 1955. Useful plants of Nyasaland. The Government Printer, Zomba, Nyasaland. 168 pp.
Other references
• Chudnoff, M., 1980. Tropical timbers of the world. USDA Forest Service, Agricultural Handbook No 607, Washington D.C., United States. 826 pp.
• Ciesla, W.M., 1991. Cypress aphid, Cinara cupressi, a new pest of conifers in eastern and southern Africa. FAO Plant Protection Bulletin 39(2–3): 82–93.
• Coates Palgrave, K., 1983. Trees of southern Africa. 2nd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 959 pp.
• Conifer Specialist Group, 1998. Widdringtonia whytei. In: IUCN. 2006 Red list of threatened species. [Internet] Accessed October 2006.
• Da Graça Silva, M., 1983. Cupressaceae. In: Mendes, E.J. (Editor). Flora de Moçambique. No 3. Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical, Lisbon, Portugal. pp 41–44.
• Dallimore, W. & Jackson, A.B., 1966. A handbook of coniferae and ginkgoaceae. 4th Edition. Edward Arnold, London, United Kingdom. 729 pp.
• Foot, D.L., 1967. Note on the planted conifers of Malawi. Silvicultural Research Record No 9. Forestry Research Institute (FRIM), Dedza, Malawi. 53 pp.
• Heinz, I., 2004. Systematische Erfassung und Dokumentation der mikroanatomischen Merkmale der Nadelhölzer aus der Klasse der Pinatae. PhD thesis, Technical University Munich, Germany. 209 pp.
• Lewis, J., 1960. Cupressaceae. In: Exell, A.W. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 1, part 1. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 86–88.
• Marsh, J.A., 1966. Cupressaceae. In: Codd, L.E., de Winter, B. & Rycroft, H.B. (Editors). Flora of southern Africa. Volume 1. Botanical Research Institute, Department of Agricultural Technical Services, Pretoria, South Africa. pp. 43–48.
• Mayhead, G.J. & Ofesi, H.K.T., 1989. Vegetative propagation of Widdringtonia nodiflora. Commonwealth Forestry Review 68(2): 117–119.
• Oliver, R., 2006. Widdringtonia nodiflora (L.) Powrie. [Internet] Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden. plantwxyz/widdnod.htm. Accessed October 2006.
• van Wyk, B. & van Wyk, P., 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 536 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Farjon, A., 2005. A monograph of Cupressaceae and Sciadopitys. Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 643 pp.
M. Brink
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

D. Louppe
CIRAD, Département Environnements et Sociétés, Cirad es-dir, Campus international de Baillarguet, TA C-DIR / B (Bât. C, Bur. 113), 34398 Montpellier Cedex 5, France
A.A. Oteng-Amoako
Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG), University P.O. Box 63, KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana
M. Brink
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
J.R. Cobbinah
Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG), University P.O. Box 63, KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana
Photo editor
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Brink, M., 2007. Widdringtonia whytei Rendle. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.

Distribution Map wild

1, tree habit; 2, leading branchlet; 3, branch with seed cones; 4, seeds.
Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin

forest, Mulanje mountains

forest, Mulanje mountains

tree habit
obtained from
Russ Clare






pit saw

habitat after fire