The Story of a Milkwood - By Sideroxylon inerme
I landed in the sandy dune forest on a mountain slope in 1508. It took me four long weeks to sprout but the wait was worthwhile for as I emerged, from the shaded soil, the scent of the sea was the first thing that greeted me. Most of my childhood I had spent listening to the stories, told by the older trees in the forest, of how things had changed in the last 400 years. By 1510 I was 2 years old and had already reached a height of 2m with my branches and leaves covered in fine hairs (still a sign of my awkward adolescence). In 1595 news had come that three ships had anchored in the nearby bay. That was the last big event of that century.
Our Milkwood family steadily grew into a lush forest with our canopy providing shelter for many of the indigenous plants and animals such as the Quagga and Bluebuck. From time to time we’d get the Quena, who were a semi-nomadic people, seeking refuge, from the harsh winds and rain, under our branches. I remember the day a scouting expedition ploughed through our woodland and I heard the explorers mention the name of a Dutch “explorer” Jan van Riebeeck. I always wondered who he was because from the way they spoke of him he sounded important.
More than 100 peaceful years passed and I grew another 5m boasting a dense canopy of evergreen leaves with white flowers and purple berry displays in the warmer months. This attracted a variety of birds to my branches and the dappled forest floor, cool in the scorching heat, was rarely short of inhabitants. Life was serene then.
The beginning of the 1800’s brought with it a terrible disease, something by the name of smallpox. One of the elders told us that it had been brought to our land by those living in the far North who had come over by ship.
It was early in that century (1811) when the wind brought news, from my cousins at the coast, of a fisherman building a house under their branches.
The Quena people were rarely seen these days and I would later learn that by 1812 their reign of this area ended with the smallpox as their conqueror. I missed the warm glow of their fires and the shadows it cast on our barks. A time of change was dawning and in 1831 a man bought our forest as part of a farm. He removed the surrounding vegetation that which we had lived alongside for centuries and replanted an unfamiliar green.
I was nearing 400 years old at the start of the 20th century and would soon be considered one of the “wise”. I’d seen the comings and goings of many a generation and felt the years added to my trunk. The hoofed gallop of the Quagga and blue buck were now a distant memory as they had been hunted to extinction. They discovered the value of our wood: dense, hard and durable made for good timber. Soon enough our numbers decreased and over the years I watched as my family was carpentered into houses and mills.
Fifty four years of felling continued to threaten our existence and we feared a fate similar to the Quagga but under the Forest Protection Act of 1984 we were considered protected. There were only 8 remnants of the original forests left by then. In 1991 our land was sold to a family with conservation in mind and I found myself in one of three Milkwood forests on a reserve they called Grootbos.
I am now 500 years old and 12m tall with a canopy spanning more than 15m. I have seen history pass me by and witnessed the decimation of many species (almost my own). My branches, from the tips to the nodes, bare dust of centuries past and tell a silent story of what went before.
Come and experience the Milkwood forest at Grootbos and book a luxury getaway at Garden Lodge or Forest Lodge