Focusing on the contested issue of trees and forests, this paper looks at various ways in which historians have explored environmental change and human agency in Africa. It looks in particular at the colonial period and positions the case of the Cape Colony (South Africa) in a broader historiographical context. Colonial silviculture involved both the appropriation of the natural forests and the creation of exotic plantations. These policies generated a mixture of reactions from African communities and had varying effects on the environment. Colonial science and the projects it gave rise to have since been critiqued, contributing to the promotion of community-based forestry schemes that try to incorporate indigenous knowledge and ideas about land use.