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Africa's Famous Trees Dying, Including Some of Oldest Baobabs

13 June 2018

WIKIMEDIA, FERDINAND REUSAfrica's baobab trees, the largest and longest-living flowering plants in the world, are dying at a startling rate, according to a study published yesterday (June 11) in Nature Plants.

The researchers found that since 2005 eight of the 13 oldest, and five of the six largest, African baobab trees have either died or their oldest parts or stems died.

According to the BBC, a paper published to Nature Plants by an worldwide team of researchers has documented how, over the past 12 years, most of the oldest and largest African baobab trees have died off. Baum says that many baobab specialists are dubious of Patrut's tree dating method, which could underestimate the age of a tree by up to 1,000 years.

According to the Kruger National Park in South Africa, the baobabs can live to be 3,000 years old and can grow to be so large that up to 40 people can shelter inside its hollow trunk. And it's no fluke, he adds.

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The researchers set out to date the trees, but discovered that they were dying in an "event of unprecedented magnitude", they write. The stories note baobobs' iconic place in African history. And baobab specialist Sarah Venter of the University of Witwatersrand says if drought was the problem, it would affect all baobabs, not just the largest and oldest. In the last dozen years, four of the largest 13 trees studied have died, suddenly rotting and splitting apart.

The team does not believe that the deaths were caused by an epidemic, and suspect climate change in southern Africa. It is found naturally in Africa's savannah region, and outside the continent in tropical areas to which it was introduced.

Man-made climate change is a likely suspect, scientists said.

The contention is that the largest baobabs weave together multiple tree stems around a small "false cavity", and this is what gives them their unique structure.

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"It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages", said the study's co-author Adrian Patrut of the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania.

“(They do refer to other baobab mortality but dont have real data on it),” Lovejoy continued. All the dead trees were located in the south of the continent - Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia.

The baobab tree, sometimes called the "Tree of Life", has an unforgettable appearance. The Times, Mail Online and New Scientist also have the story.

Whatever the cause, these mysterious deaths will have a big impact on the southern African landscape, as in addition to shade, the tree's bark, roots, seeds, and fruit are key food sources for many animals. "It's a unusual 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".

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Africa's Famous Trees Dying, Including Some of Oldest Baobabs