We have had the honour of planting over 1000 trees to feed bees in the Platbos Reserve and recently spent a day walking through more established areas of it and experiencing the wonder of an African forest – it’s gnarled hardiness stretching up and outward, it’s expanse feeling as if the sky was not large enough to hold it.
Don’t misunderstand, these are not the forests of the tropics where we expect to crane our necks to catch a glimpse of the top of a tree with a slight dapple of sunlight filtering through to light the way. Our Platbos forests are uniquely South African. While spreading left and right the canopy was not daunting, but embracing. I was captivated by the key role the milkwood tree is playing in the re-establishing of these corridors that are supporting habitats of the endangered and threatened, like the Leopard Toad and the shy Cape Leopard. Personally I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the latter, my companions smiling indulgently at my naive delight at what will not come to be, given their shy nature. It was a wonderful experience, indeed, we were fascinated by the passion and commitment of the forest man, Francois, who guided us through decades of peaceful and committed forest work. And like Francois, the “energy of the milkwood tree brings a deep sense of connection and belonging.” We walked as one on the forest floor learning more than heated memory could hold, but the milkwood held her space.
What interested me is that while honey bees do feed on the tiny white flowers, they often ignore them because they are unpleasantly scented.
#BeePlantValues on nectar and pollen are the same, in that flowers are either not observed as visited at all, or indeed it forms a medium source of both this carbohydrate, and the pollen or protein supply. So not overwhelming, but important to supporting a much needed diverse diet.
On researching I was not surprised to stumble upon the write up done by none other than the Platbos forest team. It was just so perfect, conveying the depth and breadth of the tree, it could not be more than it is, so I have acquired permissions to share it with you here.
The Milkwood Tree in Nature
Milkwoods are hardy, slow-growing trees with deep-green, leathery leaves and rough grayish-brown bark. Rarely are they found with a straight trunk. Instead their gnarled, sprawling branches create sheltering thickets that are home to a variety of wild life. By creating dense, low-crowing stands, milkwoods are one of the few trees able to withstand the salt-laden winds that batter South Africa´s southern coastline.
Although also occurring inland, milkwoods are found mainly along the coast from the Cape Peninsula to northern Zululand. In days gone by, the site of a farmyard was often determined by the presence of a milkwood. Their thick, umbrella-shaped crowns created a perfect ‘roof’ for the meat chests that pre-dated refrigerators. Amazingly, all the milkwood trees at Platbos are genetically the same tree.
Here they do not propagate themselves by seed dispersal – instead, when a milkwood grows old and falls over, a “new” tree sprouts from the fallen trunk. It is as though one enormous, ancient tree is slowly walking through the forest!
The delicate, pale-golden flowers of the milkwood are borne in clusters along the ends of the branches and they have an unusual sour-smell. The flowers are followed by juicy, dark magenta-coloured fruit that are enjoyed by birds and baboons. Once peeled of their outer skin, they have a grape-like taste.
The energy of the milkwood tree brings a deep sense of connection and belonging.
This is a nurturing and supportive tree and this essence may balance feelings of insecurity and lack of grounding.
Healing with Milkwood
Milkwood essence may be helpful for nightmares and fears of the unknown. This essence may be useful for adjusting to changes in the family structure brought about through loss or divorce. The energy of the milkwood tree can assist us with feeling at home in the world – it connects you with your personal power, and may remind us on a cellular level that we are all one family – each of us loved and needed and cared for.
Corresponding Chakra & Colour – Root Chakra at the base of the spine – the colour is red.
Use of Milkwood in Energetic Space Clearing – to introduce or to re-establish a sense of sanctity and to anchor the spiritual aspect. Steadies and firms up energy; embodies energy of the wood element; provides a “container” to anchor energy; clears away dross; connects different kingdoms.
The milky latex, which gives the tree its common name, makes the leaves and the bark unpalatable to grazing animals. A superficial scratch to the bark reveals a bright red under surface – the colour of fresh blood. The wood is very hard, heavy and strong. In the past, it was used for ship building, bridges, mills and ploughs. It is very durable even when wet and it shrinks little with drying.
Traditionally the milkwood has a number of medicinal uses: the roots have been used to aid the healing of fractured bones and an infusion of the bark is said to dispel nightmares.
At Platbos there is a great forest elder whose trunk is estimated to be over 1000 years of age.
There are four milkwood trees in South Africa that have been awarded National Monument status and these are their stories:
The Post Office Tree of Mossel Bay – In 1500 a letter describing the unfortunate drowning at sea of Bartholomew Diaz, the famous explorer, was placed in a shoe by Portuguese sailors and tied to this milkwood tree. It was found over a year later by the man to whom it was addressed, Commander Joao Nova.
The Treaty Tree, Woodstock, Cape Town – It was here, in 1806 that the commander of local defenses formally handed over the Cape to the British following the Battle of Blaauwberg.
The Fingo Milkwood Tree, near Peddie, Eastern Cape – The Fingo people pledged their loyalty to God and the British king under this tree in 1835.
Milkwood at Rhenosterfontein Farm, near Bredasdorp – This milkwood has been awarded National Monument status in recognition of its size and age: the trunk has a girth of over 3 meters and the crown a spread of over 20 meters.
Milkwoods are protected in South Africa and may not be cut without a permit.
Planting Out and Heading to New Terrain
It was a day of all things spectacular, with the milkwood holding something special for everyone, including our honey bees. Thanking once again our Founding partner Boland Cellar, and Nedbank, for their continued support into this new year, too to Greenpop for spectacular reforestation efforts we are proud to support, and last but by no means least, thanks to Francois the forest man, and the Platbos Forest team for years of commitment in reforesting the site.
A mammoth task in which we have played a last part in closing out the planting. We start on the new site next month, Bodhi Khaya and we had the pleasure of planting our first tree there, named Melita by Anneen Du Toit of Boland Cellar, the silent champion of our bees. Melita is Boland Cellar’s wine created specially to showcase our bees.