The world’s oldest flowering trees are mysteriously dying after having provided food, water and shelter from the African sun to both humans and animals for thousands of years.
The deaths of four of the continent’s 13 oldest baobab trees, and the withering to near death of five others over the past 12 years, is being blamed by some on climate change.
Towering over Africa’s savannah, the iconic trees can live to be nearly 3,000 years old. One village held a funeral for its dead baobab, calling it the “mother of us all”.
Ancient baobabs are dying
Baobabs are dying across southern Africa‚ and climate change may be to blame.
Some of the oldest and largest baobabs in South Africa‚ Zimbabwe‚ Namibia‚ South Africa‚ Botswana‚ and Zambia have abruptly died in the past decade‚ say a team of international researchers. The trees‚ aged between 1‚100 and 2‚500 years‚ may have fallen victim to climate change‚ said the team.
While the cause of the deaths is unknown‚ the researchers “suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular”.
The dead trunks were only 40% water‚ instead of the 75-80% they should have been. Their condition meant they could no longer support the tree’s weight. Between 2005 and 2017‚ the researchers dated “practically all known very large and potentially old” African baobabs – more than 60 in total. After studying data on girth‚ height‚ wood volume and age‚ they noted the “unexpected and intriguing fact” that most of the oldest and biggest trees died during the study period.
The oldest tree which suffered the collapse of all its stems was the Panke tree in Zimbabwe‚ estimated to have existed for 2‚500 years. The biggest‚ Holboom‚ was from Namibia. It stood 30.2m tall and had a girth of 35.1m.
The most famous victim of the die-off was the Chapman’s baobab‚ a national monument and tourist attraction in central Botswana that bore the carved initials of explorer David Livingstone. It was named after South African hunter James Chapman‚ who visited it in 1852. On January 7‚ 2016‚ its six trunks all collapsed and died.