Climate change killing off Africa’s iconic baobab tree


Researchers say climate change is playing a role in the deaths of Africa's iconic trees.

The ancient baobab trees first sprouted on the African savannah about 1,500 years ago, inspiring awe and becoming an icon on the continent.

"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 made the discovery by chance during a study of the biology that enables the baobab to grow so large.

But if the Platland's demise was sudden and tragic, it wasn't unique: A new survey of baobab trees across several countries in southern Africa found that most of the two dozen oldest and biggest trees have died or significantly deteriorated in the last decade.

"These trees are under pressure by temperature increases and drought", study co-author and Babeș-Bolyai University chemist Adrian Patrut told NPR. Marked by wide, cylindrical trunks and gnarled branches, they look somewhat like trees that have been turned upside-down, with the labyrinthine roots sticking up above and the branches shoved underground.

Further research is needed, said the team from Romania, South Africa and the United States, "to support or refute this supposition". They are all between 1,000 and more than 2,500 years old.

The baobab is the longest-living, most enormous flowering tree in existence, according to the study.

Scientists believe that this phenomenon is not associated with any epidemic, and global climate change and in particular warming on the African contintent, but scientifically proven facts in favor of this version yet. It stores huge quantities of water and grows fruit edible for both humans and animals.

The trees could also be an underappreciated solution to economic development and food security in rural areas, according to research from the Kenya-based World Agroforestry Center.

Its leaves, meanwhile, can be boiled and eaten as an accompaniment similar to spinach, or used to make traditional medicines. "Such fix growth would lead to an inverted age sequence where wood initially gets older as you move towards the outside of the tree from the hollow".

"When they do die, they simply rot from the inside and suddenly collapse, leaving a heap of fibres". Often seen towering over other plants around, baobabs are somewhat of a tourist attraction in the region. In 2010, its branches started to fall off; then its multiple stems began to split and topple over. This included the Platland baobab and a few trees that appeared, by Patrut's calculations, to be more than 2,000 years old.

Other than the oldest and biggest, the research team observed that many other mature baobabs had died.