Some of Africa's oldest and biggest baobob trees have died

Leslie Hanson
June 13, 2018

As per the study, five out of the six oldest and largest trees either passed away or the oldest parts in their system collapsed.

"We report that nine of the 13 oldest. individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died, over the past 12 years", they wrote in the scientific journal Nature Plants, describing "an event of an unprecedented magnitude". They can grow to be thousands of years old, and develop hollows inside so large that one massive baobab in South Africa had a bar inside it. And it's no fluke, he adds. The stories note baobobs' iconic place in African history.

“Something obviously is going on in nearly selectively affecting the largest and oldest, ” Thomas Lovejoy, an environmental scientist and Amazon rain forest expert at George Mason University, wrote in an email comment on the study. In the last dozen years, four of the largest 13 trees studied have died, suddenly rotting and splitting apart.

Their growth system also allows the trees to form giant gaps in their trunks.

The baobab, or Adansonia palmate (Adansonia modeling) is a species of tree in the genus Adansonia the family Malvaceae characteristic of dry savannas of tropical Africa.

Study leader Adrian Patrut‚ from Babes-Bolyai University in Romania‚ says: "It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages".


Using radiocarbon-dating, in which researchers date carbon atoms inside the tree stem, they found that baobabs' unique architecture is responsible for their longevity.

It's possible that the deaths are part of a natural cycle, though it's hard to say because baobabs decay rapidly and don't leave behind any evidence of previous die-offs. While baobabs typically begin growing as single-stemmed trees, they produce new ones over time, developing increasingly complex structures.

The iconic trees can reach almost 2,000 years of age.

The latest survey of ancient baobabs suggests climate change may already be affecting the continent's vegetation. Increased temperature and drought are the primary threats, Patrut told BBC News. Baobabs are particularly reliant on the annual rainy season and need to sip up about 70 to 80 percent of their volume in water to stay upright. "It's a odd feeling, because these are trees which may live for 2,000 years or more, and we see that they're dying one after another during our lifetime". They have been surveying the trees since 2005 and have developed a theory of how they grow, while also documenting the losses.

In the mythology of many African peoples, the baobab tree represents life, fertility and appears in heraldic coats of arms of some countries.

But Baum does not contest that large baobabs are dying - something he calls “heartbreaking.”.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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