These trees are a remnant of the hedge planted in 1660 by Jan van Riebeeck as a boundary to the newly established settlement at the Cape. Jan van Riebeeck, an employee of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), arrived at the Cape in 1652, to set up a refreshment station for passing ships. The settlement lay in the path of traditional Khoikhoi grazing routes and open conflict between them broke out during 1659-60.
Jan van Riebeeck decided to create a defensive barrier along the eastern boundary of the settlement that would also prevent the Khoikhoi from raiding their livestock. In 1659 they started building a wooden fence, with watch towers, from the mouth of the Salt River, through Rondebosch to Kirstenbosch, using the deeper parts of the Liesbeeck River as part of the barrier. To finish the barrier quickly, a hedge of indigenous wild almond trees (Brabejum stellatifolium) and thorny shrubs was planted along the section between the river and Kirstenbosch. Van Riebeeck left the Cape in 1662 when he was promoted to the Council of Justice in Batavia. Read more about the early days of Kirstenbosch on the History page.
For many, this hedge marks the first step on the road to Apartheid and symbolises how white South Africa cut itself off from the rest of Africa, dispossessed the indigenous people and kept the best of the resources for itself. Our challenge in South Africa today is to dismantle the barriers erected in the past, share the resources equally and build a home for all.
The trees of the hedge are Brabejum stellatifolium, the wild almond, characterized by their enormous intertwined branches and a tendency to grow horizontally as much as vertically. The wild almond is a member of the Protea Family, most closely related to the Australian genus Macadamia, the Macadamia nut. Wild almond nuts contain cyanide and are poisonous unless specially treated by soaking and roasting, a technique discovered by the Khoisan people who used to eat them.
Go to our plant information website to find out more about Brabejum stellatifolium.