General Info

Local Trees may reach 15m high.  The initially needle-like Leaves become scale-like and appressed. Male and female Cones are monoecious. Female cones open for pollination and dispersal of winged Seeds.



Widdringtonia nodiflora, Widdringtonia cupressoides, Thuja cupressoides.

RSA tree No. 20.

Common names: Mountain cypress, Mountain cedar, Bergsipres, Berg cypress, Sapree-wood, Cape cypress.

Family: Cupressaceae (The cypress family) has about 28 genera and in excess of 130 species. This family is part of the Gymnosperm (naked seeded) group. This family has Trees are usually evergreen, monoecious with male and female in the same tree. The initially small and needle-like Leaves mature into being narrow and scale-like. They collectively hide the stem. Reproductive structures lack a perianth. The Male cones are up to 2cm long and pollen grains lack wings or air-bladders and are situated on the abaxial surface of the scales. In the Female cones, the scales have ovules on the adaxial side. The usually small Seeds are generally in woody, now gaping, leathery or fleshy cones. The seeds tend have narrow wings.

Name derivation: Widdringtonia – named after Captain Widdrington of the Royal Navy who published a book on European pines in the 19th century. nodiflora – flowering at the nodes. The genus Widdringtonia currently contains 3 indigenous species. The other 2 are W. schwarzii and W. cedarbergensis.

Conservation Status: L C: (Least Concern). Trees are slightly threatened due to fires and human use.

Tree is up to 15m high. The conical young tree spreads with age. The grey to brown trunk is straight slender and thinly longitudinally fissured, producing thin long flakes and exposing the reddish under bark.


Leaves on this evergreen tree are found at the ends of mature branches and are in opposite (usually) or alternate pairs. Young leaves are light, bright green, and needle-like. They are up to 2cm long and are sub-spirally arranged. As they mature the leaves become scale-like and are narrowly oblong and appressed (closely and flatly pressed against but not joined) against the young stems. These leaves are now are dark green and up to 2mm long. These appressed leaves may obscure young stems.

Reproductive Structures

The Cones are monoecious (separate male and female cones but on the same tree) and lack a perianth (the 2 floral envelopes considered together; a collective term for the calyx and corolla). Yellowish Male cones are small – about 4mm long and solitary. They are catkin-like and usually found at the ends of short lateral branchlets. Each cone has 6 pairs of Scales. These scales are peltate (shield-shaped), leathery and decussate (opposite pairs of scales have successive pairs at right angles to each other i.e. rotated 90 degrees when viewed from the apex). Usually 4 pollen sacs are located at the base of each scale. The unopened, initially silvery green, Female cones occur on elongated shoots. They are small and axillary. They have spherical valves (faces) which are smooth or wrinkled or slightly warty (short knobs near the apex) at maturity. They occur singly or in clusters. These roughly spherical cones become dark brown, woody and up to 2,5cm wide. There are usually 4 equally sized Scales or valves on each cone and are arranged in a single whorl. They open to allow wind pollination. They then close and finally open again to expose and release the developed small, dark brown/black, red winged, ovoid Seeds (photo 687). The scales may have noticeable bulges. (March – but this varies).

Distribution & Ecology

These frost resistant Trees often grow in groups on exposed mountain slopes. The trees are common at high altitudes (up to 2 600m) and on sides of mountains like the Soutpansberg mountains in Limpopo. Really big trees are now are difficult to find. The tree contains an aromatic, inflammable resin, which makes them susceptible to fire and the trunk may explode if the heat is great enough. It will produce coppice (if young tree stems are cut/burned down to near ground level it causes regrowth from the stump or roots) growth from its roots after a fire – a distinctive characteristic. They occur from the Western Cape (including Table Mountain), north of the Storms River up the eastern escarpment (including Giant’s Castle and Cathedral Peak In Kwazulu-Natal) to the Soutpansberg, Swaziland, Mozambique, through Zimbabwe to Malawi (here they may reaches 40m in height). They do not occur in Namibia.


The Trees are easily grown from seed but are slow growing. The seeds can remain on the tree for a long time and may only be released when the tree is killed by fire. After a fire they germinate rapidly to recolonize the area. I took a cone home and several months later I noticed the cone had opened and released the seeds (photo 687). The Wood is resinous, fragrant and the tree yields aromatic oil. The timber is very durable – even outdoors. The wood is easy to work with and good tough, roofing shingles are made with it. It is also used for hut construction and for making furniture.  The wood has a natural soft sheen. The Pollen is allergenic.


Boon, R. 2010. Pooley’s Trees of eastern South Africa. Flora and Fauna Publications Trust, Durban.

Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of Southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.

Lawrence, G. H. M, 1951. Taxonomy of Vascular Plants, The Macmillan Company, New York. Tenth Printing 1965.

Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa, Balkema, Amsterdam, Cape Town.

Schmidt, S. Lotter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and the Kruger National Park.

van Wyk, B. & van Wyk, P. 1997 Field guide to Trees of Southern Africa, Struik, Cape Town.