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Fly Fishing
Bird Watching

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  Forest Industry Museum

The only one of its kind in Africa


Frequently Asked Forestry Questions

How old are the trees when harvested?
Pine trees are harvested when they are 25-30 years old, but younger trees are selectively thinned out for pulpwood.  Eucalypt trees are harvested at 7-10 years for pulp and mining timber, and at 12-30 years for furniture timber.

How tall are these trees?
It depends on the type of tree, age and the quality of the site it is growing on.  Pine trees can be as tall as 30m, and Eucalypt trees can be as tall as 50m.

How much wood is there in a tree?
It also depends on the type of tree, age and the quality of the site it is growing on.  A mature Pine tree can have a volume of up to 1,7m3 and a Eucalypt tree 2m3.

How much is a tree worth?
It depends on the type, size & quality of the timber, but the wood of a mature Pine tree can be up to R400, whilst a mature Eucalypt tree can fetch as much as R1,000.

How much paper can be made from a tree?

Are these trees indigenous?
No - pines trees come from Central America and USA.  Eucalypt trees come from Australia.

Are these trees evergreen?
Yes - both pines and eucalypt trees are evergreen.

How much water do trees use?
It depends on the time of the year and the availability of ground water, but an average tree will consume about 25 litres of water per day.

Are the trees irrigated and fertilized?
No - plantation trees are never irrigated and only young eucalypt trees are sometimes fertilized.

Do tree stumps re-sprout?
Eucalypt tree stumps do re-sprout, but pine trees have to be re-planted with seedlings.

How many km of plantation roads are there in the area?
Road density is 1km of road for every 17ha of plantation. Within a radius of 30km from Sabie there are, therefore, more than 16 000km of plantation roads.

Are plantations managed in an environmentally responsible way?
Yes - all the larger companies, as well as many of the smaller ones, have achieved international Forest Stewardship Council certification.

Are there any wildlife in the plantations?
Yes - there are numerous bird, small mammal, fish, reptile and insect species in the plantations.

I would like to visit a plantation or a sawmill. Who should I contact?
Contact Global Forest Products on (013) 764-1011 and ask for a guided tour.

I would like to pursue a career in Forestry. Who should I contact?
Contact the University of Stellenbosch about a professional qualification and the Port Elizabeth Technicon about a technical qualification in Forestry.

For Questions & Answers, about Sabie, see our About Sabie page.

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The South African Forestry Industry plants 360 000 trees every working day - more than 90 million trees every year.

Our forests are a national asset and a renewable resource providing the numerous essential products which form such an important part of our everyday lives.

Forestry Facts
Main Tree Species
Life Cycle of a Tree
Forest Fires
War on Weeds
Forests and People
Role of the Forester


... and every tree planted by hand !

Forestry Facts
South Africa has a plantation area of more than 1.5 million hectares, representing only 1.2% of the land area.  This percentage compares poorly to the 30% of the USA and the 67% of Japan. One of the largest afforested areas in South Africa (an area of 0.6 million hectares) is in the Mpumalanga province.

The Forestry Industry contribute 8.7% of the gross value of the country's agricultural output.  The plantation forests of South Africa uses just 3% of the country's total water resource.  Irrigation, which is the norm in the growing of many agricultural crops, is never utilised in forest plantation management.  The rainfall, therefore, need to be higher than 750 mm per annum to sustain commercial forestry.

The Main Tree Species

Tree, Cone
and Needle

Identification Characteristics

Pinus patula
(Jelecote Pine)
Indigenous to Mexico  

Pinus patula

Long (25 cm), light green, drooping needles.  Cones are pear-shaped and the bark is orange-coloured.
Pinus elliottii
(Slash Pine)
Indigenous to USA 

Pinus elliottii

Needles and bark darker than that of Pinus patula and the needles do not droop.  Cone not as spiny as that of Pinus taeda.
Pinus taeda
(Loblolly Pine)
Indigenous to USA 

Pinus taeda

Needles and bark darker than that of Pinus patula and the needles do not droop.  Cone is spiny, compared to Pinus elliottii.
Timber Usage:
Timber from thinnings are used for the manufacturing of pulp, boxes and crates.  Logs from mature (20-30 year old) trees are used for building and construction timber. High quality logs are used for veneer and furniture.

Webmaster's Note:
Foresters can tell these three pine species apart with little more than a sideways glance.  But for the non-forester wishing to identify them, follow this simple field test:

  • If the needles droop, it is Pinus patula.
  • If the needles don't droop, pick up a cone. Hold it in the palm of your hand and squeeze it hard.  If it hurts, it is Pinus taeda - if not, it is Pinus elliottii.

Eucalyptus grandis
(Gum, blue-gum, grandis)
This fast growing tree is indigenous to Australia and is the most common (almost exclusively) planted eucalypt tree in the Sabie area.  The harvested tree stump will coppice (re-sprout) to form second and more crops (rotations).
Timer Usage:
Trees are generally harvested at 7 to 10 years and the timber is mainly used for pulp, mining timber and for telephone and transmission poles.  Timber from older trees (12 to 30 years) is used to produce fine furniture, as can be seen in most South African schools.

The Life Cycle of a Pine Tree
Nursery with pine seedligs Pine cones are gathered from seed orchards where the parent trees have been specially selected for their growth qualities and desirable timber characteristics.  The seeds are extracted, treated and sown into rigid plastic tubes.  The seedlings are then grown in the tree nurseries until planted out in the plantation.

Planting is done by hand at an espacement of 2.7m x 2.7m to yield an initial stocking of 1 370 trees per hectare.  No fertilisers are used, but particular care is taken to match the tree species with the soil type and environmental factors.

The trees are thinned out progressively, at about 5 year intervals, to allow the better formed and more vigorous trees to develop faster.  The lower branches are also pruned to produce knot free timber.  Pine tree being felled When a final density of approximately 300 trees per hectare is reached the plantations are allowed to grow undisturbed until ready for clear felling at 25 to 30 years.  During the rotation age of up to 30 years the trees are protected against forest fires, weed competition, forest pests and tree diseases.

Sawlogs from the clear felled plantations are transported to sawmills by road where they are sawn into boards, kiln-dried and graded to SABS (South African Bureau of Standards) specifications.  The sawmill recovery rate is less than 50% (i.e. less than half of the log intake is converted into lumber - the rest ends up as sawdust, pulp chips or is burned as fuel to produce steam for the drying kilns).  A number of sawmills (including the largest sawmill on the African continent) are located around Sabie.

Timber from early thinnings, as well as the thinner sections and toppings from clear-fellings are collected for the pulp mill at Ngodwana for conversion to pulp and then to paper.  Pulp from pine trees is generally processed into newsprint, or mixed with pulp from Eucalypt trees to produce high quality paper.

Forest Fires
Plantation fire Forest owners spend an enormous amount of time and money in protecting timber plantations from fire.  Open strips of land, which separate blocks of trees, are constantly cleared of all combustible material in order to create what is termed a fire-belt.  Before each winter the air around Sabie is occasionally hazy and smoke-filled as foresters prepare and burn fire-belts.

Fires are caused either accidentally, through carelessness, or through natural causes such as lightning.  Whatever the cause, fires can devastate forests, destroy the wildlife and ecology of entire plantations and expose the ground to erosion.

Helicopter dumping water on a forest fire On the high peaks overlooking the plantations are numerous fire lookouts.  Some of these lookouts are manned 24 hours a day and others are equipped with sophisticated, remote-controlled video cameras that relay pictures to a central command centre.

Helicopters, water bomber planes and spotter aircrafts are also used whilst firefighting teams often endanger their lives to combat forest fires.

War on Weeds
Weeds in plantations smother tree seedlings and reduce timber volumes, obstruct workers tending trees and make harvesting difficult.  In unplanted areas weeds interfere with the natural ecological processes by smothering indigenous plants, changing the habitat for animals and birds, increasing the fuel load for wild fires and altering the pattern of rainfall run-off and stream flow.

In the Sabie area the five main plantation weed species are;

  • Bugweed (Solanum mauritianum)
    An invasive alien shrub or small tree from Central America.  This is a declared weed.
  • American bramble (Rubus cuneifolius)
    This rambling, thorny scrub smother young trees and severely hamper access to plantations.

  • Lantana (Lantana camara)
    An invasive alien shrub or climber from Central America.  This is a declared weed.

  • Setaria grass (Setaria megaphylla)
    Tuffs of Setaria grass grow up to 2 meters tall.  This aggressive alien grass compete with young trees for moisture and nutrients and increase the fire risk during the dry winter months.

  • Black Wattle (Acacia mearnsii)
    A useful Australian species in other parts of the country, but these trees are not grown commercially in the Sabie area.

A large percentage of any forester's budget is devoted to weed control, using mechanical, chemical and biological control methods.  The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry have a very successful "Working for Water" project with the aim to increase streamflow by reducing weeds in water cathment areas, whilst at the same time creating much needed employment opportunities.

Forests and People
The plantation forests around Sabie have transformed previous grasslands and in so doing have created an entirely new environment.  On the one hand, this new environment is managed as a commercial entity in which the highly technical business of timber growing, harvesting and processing takes place as an essential ingredient in the supply of timber products to markets across the country.  On the other hand, these plantations areas are there to be enjoyed by the many visitors who seek to escape to the tranquility of the country.

Forest owners have developed hiking trails and 4x4 routes through some of the most remote and dramatic countryside that the escarpment can provide, for the enjoyment of the public.  Elsewhere, scenic points have been opened up and facilities provided for both tourists and for many artists and crafts people who rely on roadside stalls to sell their work.

The progressive opening of forests to sport enthusiasts and tourists should be accompanied by a real awareness of the ecosystems which make up the forest plantations.  Mountain bikers, hikers, motor ralyists, fishermen, birders, botanists, photographers and many others who enjoy our forest environment should seek to preserve this valuable asset for all.

Webmaster's Note:
Timber companies are often fiercely criticized for ravaging our indigenous grasslands with evergreen exotic trees that consume more than their fair share of our valuable water resources.

I have often wondered what the escarpment must have looked like a mere 100 years ago.  I can imagine that the rolling grasslands must have looked magnificent - perfectly in tune with mother nature.

But as I go about my daily routine of reading my newspaper, buying my breakfast cereal in a cardboard box, filling my printer's paper tray and tending to my personal sanitation and hygiene, I can not imagine being without paper.

The Role of the Forester
The science of growing and tending trees as a branch of forestry is called silviculture, a word which describes the progressive elements of plantation management from planting through all stages of growth to final harvest.  This is the work of the the forester whose training equips him or her for every aspect of forest management and control.  Forestry is a highly technical profession where timber yields are measured against numerous factors during the life cycle of a tree and it is the responsibility of the forester to ensure that these returns are achieved.

The forester must be aware of forest pests (entomology) and tree diseases (tree pathology) which he/she must control as far as is possible.  He/she must manage the extraction of plantation timbers by contractors and ensure that environmental damage is minimised and that the land is restored for future plantings.

The forester must interact with authorities, tourism organisations and adjoining land owners to establish the best possible protective policy for the plantations under his/her control.  He/she will also be aware of rare indigenous plant species growing in his/her area, such as cycads and tree ferns which must be protected from trespassers and illegal plant dealers.  The protection of bird and game species is also an important part of a forester's work.


  • South African Forest Owners Association pamphlet: "Understanding Our Forestry Heritage"
  • The South African Institute of Forestry: "Forestry Handbook"

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