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Story of coral trees

Worcesterites have probably wondered why they see so many coral trees (Erythrina Caffra) in Church Street, around the Dutch Reformed Church (“Moederkerk”) in Church Square, Adderley Street and in Tulbagh Street, but nowhere else in Worcester.

Coral trees do not grow naturally in the Breede Valley, but are indigenous to the eastern parts of South Africa. It begs the questions, how did these trees get here and why are they concentrated to this area?

The story behind how the first coral tree seed got to Worcester is a remarkable one, which has fortunately been well-documented in the annals of the Rabie family of Worcester.

It was JC Rabie (Johannes Christiaan) of the farm Onder’t Kloppersbosch (present-day Leipzig in the Nuy Valley, halfway between Worcester and Robertson), who brought the first coral tree seed to Worcester from the Grahamstown district.

In 1846 Rabie was elected the deputy commandant of the Worcester Commando to lead them in battle during the Fourth Frontier War in the Eastern Cape.

After one very harsh battle, Rabie nearly lost his life. After the battle he picked up a red bean seed of a coral tree and decided to bring it to Worcester. He was so thankful that his life was spared that he decided to plant the seed in the garden of the Dutch Reformed “Moederkerk” in Worcester, where he was a congregant, on his return in 1847. He planted it, firstly, as an act of thanksgiving and secondly, to serve as a perpetual reminder, for himself and his family, that the Lord had saved his life and the lives of the fellow members of the Worcester Commando.

Today the original coral tree Rabie planted no longer stands, but the seedlings from this old pioneer tree can still be seen in Church Street around the Moederkerk.

The oldest tree is presumably the massive coral tree which, today, stands on the corner of Napier and Tulbagh street.

In an attempt to preserve the unique story behind Worcester’s coral trees, Q Square generously decided to unveil a plaque chronicling it in a lane between Daly Bread and iStyle Hair Salon.

It serves as a source of information on local history in the interests of tourism, particularly in the CBD, where the Worcester Heritage Route has been extended.

Importantly, it attempts to position the CBD as a unique destination with much history and a rich heritage, and to help conserve the trees by raising awareness of them.

What also makes this story fascinating is that these trees are tangible assets that link one to the past which, as the present situation does, links the various South African communities around the country’s unique and intertwined cultural heritage.

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