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Small or large tree to 37 m, trunk straight and massive. Bark thin, fibrous, reddish grey, soon flaking. Crown slender and conical or columnar. Branchlets with densely packed mature leaves appear thread-like. Juvenile leaves glaucous-green, 1–2 × 0.2 cm; mature leaves 1–1.5 mm long, acute, with a dorsal gland; mature leaves on terminal branchlets, ovate. Male strobili 1–2 mm long. Female cones axillary, usually clustered or in whorls of four, subglobose, valvate, ~2 cm diameter. Seed scales dark brown, rough and woody, with a warty external face. Seeds flattened, with a conspicuous wing, ~0.4 cm long, reddish brown. Coates Palgrave 1990, Pauw & Linder 1997, Farjon 2005c. Distribution SOUTH AFRICA: Eastern Cape (Baviaanskloof and Kouga mountains). Habitat South-facing mountain slopes with poor soils, at c.910 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 9. Conservation status Vulnerable. Illustration Coates Palgrave 1990. Cross-reference K324.
This narrow endemic, rejoicing in the Afrikaans name Baviaanskloofseder, comes from a summer-rainfall area and may thus be slightly more adaptable than the preceding two species discussed. In Oregon it grows well for Sean Hogan in his Portland garden, and he recommends some summer irrigation. The story behind the collection of this material is amusing: when Hogan and the late Parker Sanderson sought permission to take seed they met with incomprehension and were repeatedly asked how many trees they wanted, by an official who could not grasp that they were requesting only a pinch of seed. They did eventually get their permit, however, and some seeds (S. Hogan, pers. comm. 2007; Cistus Nursery online catalogue). Among the seedlings raised was one with particularly glaucous young growth which is now propagated clonally and sold under the name ‘Drakensberg Blue’. As specimens mature, this foliage contrasts well with the reddish bark. Widdringtonia schwarzii is evidently happy in dry Californian and Oregonian conditions, and could probably be tried in hot dry sites in Europe, especially in the current climate, but the only large specimen recorded by TROBI is one at Mount Congreve, Co. Waterford, that had reached 2.5 m in 1974.