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Wonderboom Nature Reserve, Pretoria

The Wonderboom Nature Reserve is a 1km² reserve centered on a wild fig tree (Ficus salicifolia) that is more than 1000 years old. The tree is located on the northern slopes of the Magaliesberg Mountains near the Apies River in the Northern portion Pretoria. To local people, it was a sacred ground; to the Voortrekkers, a landmark spot where they rested for a short while before continuing on their journey further north. Fortune-hunters dreamed that the Kruger millions would turn up here but they found only the Stone Age tools of the prehistoric hunters who ambushed their prey in the poort (entrance) nearby.

wonderboom nature reserve

The tree was given it's name by Hendrik Potgieter and his Voortreker followers who discovered this amazing specimen in the early 1800's. Local Tswana tribes have known about the tree for hundreds of years. For them it is a sacred place. A legend that places the remains of a chief of an indigenous tribe beneath its roots serves to explain the size of this "Miracle" tree.

At the centre of the Wonderboom tree stands the original tree trunk, over 5m thick. Over hundreds of years the tree's massive limbs spread out and would touch the ground. From the radial points new trunks would grow. This process has resulted in a single tree with 13 different trunks, covering an area nearly 50m in diameter. A 5,5 m diameter trunk at the heart of the Wonderboom is the remains of the original wild fig that began growing here over than 1 000 years ago.

The wild fig is a hardy tree flourishing in open woodlands, on rocky hills and outcrops, and near streams and rivers. The bark of the young trees is smooth and a pale grey, while the bark of older trees is rougher and darker. The leaves are thick and leathery, and the tiny white fruits, only about 5 mm in diameter, become a yellowish-pink colour when they ripen between August and May. But while the Ficus salicifolia seldom grows higher than 9 m, the Wonderboom stands taller 23m. In addition to its great height, the way in which it has extended itself makes it an extremely rare natural phenomenon whose protection against the ravages of man is of great importance.

The tree was probably the safest during the period when only local people knew of its existence. They were animists, adherents to a primitive world view that attached spiritual significance to natural objects and phenomena. Because the tree was so very unusual, they considered it sacred and allowed it to flourish without bothering it.

The tree was discovered in 1836 by the Voortrekkers, under Hendrik Potgieter, who named it the Wonderboom. After Potgieter, several other groups of Voortrekkers stopped at this tree, and the site continues to have a special significance for South Africans who identify with Voortrekker history.

The reserve is home for several small antelope species as well as monkeys, dassies and a large variety of birds. Besides small game and the Wonderboom itself, the reserve also protects several historical sites, some recent, some ancient.


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