Quantcast
Climate
A baobab in Tanzania. Yoky / GNU Free Documentation License

Africa’s Iconic Baobabs Are Dying, Including World's OIdest Flowering Tree

When researchers set out to investigate the structure, growth and age of Africa's iconic baobab trees—the largest and longest-living flowering trees in the world—they received a devastating surprise. Many of the oldest, largest baobabs were dead or dying.

The final study, published in Nature Plants Monday, reported that nine of the 13 oldest and five of the six largest African baobabs had entirely or partly died during the research period from 2005 to 2017. The oldest was 2,500 years old.


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

The researchers studied every known large African baobab in Africa, on islands off its coast or outside Africa for a total of more than 60 trees. All of the dying trees were found in the southern African countries of Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Namibia.

Baobabs survive the dry Savannah by storing water in their large trunks, but researchers thought conditions were now getting too dry even for them.

The cause of the trees' deaths was unknown, but was not attributed to disease, and the deaths of the oldest trees coincided with an uptick in mortality in other mature baobabs. The researchers therefore hypothesized that the impact of climate change on Southern Africa was to blame.

"We suspect this is associated with increased temperature and drought," Patrut told BBC News.

The researchers also found that baobabs are always multi-stemmed: They grow new stems as they age the way other trees sprout branches. Of the endangered old and large trees, four had seen all stems collapse and topple entirely, while six had seen only some of their stems collapse and die.

The report also memorialized the oldest, largest and most famous trees to die.

The oldest, Panke, was a sacred tree in Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe. At around 2,500 years old, it was not only the oldest baobab, but the oldest angiosperm, or flowering tree, in the world.

The largest, the Platland tree or Sunland baobab, was also probably the most visited and promoted tree in Africa. It had a total wood volume of 501 cubic meters (approximately 17,692.6 cubic feet) and was also the largest angiosperm. It was located in the Limpopo province of South Africa.

The most famous, the Chapman baobab, was located in Botswana's Makgadikgadi Pans. It was named for South African hunter James Chapman who visited it in 1852.

Baobabs are important to the ecosystems and cultures of Southern Africa. They provide nesting sites for birds, according to BBC News, and AFP reported that both animals and humans eat their fruit. Humans also boil their leaves for food and medicine and use the bark for rope, baskets, hats and cloth, AFP noted.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Politics
Mike Pence at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, MD. Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

Pence Family Gas Station Failures Cost Taxpayers More Than $20 Million

A failed gas station empire owned by the family of Vice President Mike Pence has left communities in his home state saddled with millions of dollars in ongoing cleanup costs, the AP reported this weekend.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Emilie Chen / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Against All Odds, Mountain Gorilla Numbers Are on the Rise

By Jason Bittel

The news coming out of East Africa's Virunga Mountains these days would have made the late (and legendary) conservationist Dian Fossey very happy. According to the most recent census, the mountain gorillas introduced to the world in Gorillas in the Mist, Fossey's book and the film about her work, have grown their ranks from 480 animals in 2010 to 604 as of June 2016. Add another couple hundred apes living in scattered habitats to the south, and their population as a whole totals more than 1,000. Believe it or not, this makes the mountain gorilla subspecies the only great apes known to be increasing in number.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
WeWork offers small businesses workspace in a collaborative community. Jonathan Wiggs / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

$20 Billion Startup WeWork Goes Vegetarian, Citing Environmental Concerns

Growing office-space startup WeWork is introducing a new flavor of corporate sustainability with its announcement Thursday that the entire company is going vegetarian, CNN Tech reported Friday.

The company of around 6,000 will no longer serve meat at events or reimburse employees for pork, red meat or poultry.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Greenpeace activists unfurled two large banners in the high bell tower of Kallio church in Helsinki, Finland on Monday. Greenpeace

'Warm Our Hearts Not Our Planet': Greenpeace Demands Climate Action From Trump and Putin

By Jessica Corbett

As U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin came together in Helsinki, Finland on Monday for a closely watched summit, Greenpeace activists partnered with a local parish to unfurl two massive banners on the Kallio church's bell tower to call on the leaders to "warm our hearts not our planet."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Many roofs were torn off when high winds from Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. U.S. Air Force photo by A1C Nicholas Dutton

Hurricane Maria Aftermath: FEMA Admits to Deadly Mistakes in Puerto Rico

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was sorely unprepared to handle Hurricane Maria and the subsequent crisis in Puerto Rico, the agency admitted in an internal performance assessment memo released last week.

FEMA's after-action report details how the agency's warehouse on the island was nearly empty due to relief efforts from Hurricane Irma when Maria made landfall last September, with no cots or tarps and little food and water.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks to staff at the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters on July 11 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

3 Ways Andrew Wheeler Can Help Restore the EPA’s Dignity and Mission

By Jeff Turrentine

Plenty has been written in the past week about Andrew Wheeler, who has taken over as interim U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator after Scott Pruitt's abrupt yet way overdue resignation. (Some of us were even writing about Wheeler months ago!)

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
Bob Berg / Getty Images

How Summer and Diet Damage Your DNA, and What You Can Do

By Adam Barsouk

Today, your body will accumulate quadrillions of new injuries in your DNA. The constant onslaught of many forms of damage, some of which permanently mutates your genes, could initiate cancer and prove fatal. Yet all is not doomed: The lives we lead determine how well our cells can handle this daily molecular erosion.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme / Maxime Aliaga

300+ Mammal Species Could Still Be Discovered, Scientists Say

By Sara Novak

You can't protect an animal that you don't know exists. Tapanuli orangutans, for example, are found only in the Tapanuli region of Sumatra; they were only identified as a species last year, when scientists found them to be genetically different from other Bornean and Sumatran orangutans. With just 800 left, this newly discovered species is the most critically endangered ape.

It's hard to believe that with only seven great ape species on the planet—Tapanuli, Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, eastern and western gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos—a species could have gone undiscovered until 2017. But, in fact, new research shows that many mammals still fly under the radar.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!