Ancient baobabs are dying and climate change is the chief suspect

Two yellow baobab pods hanging from a leafy branch

The African baobab, the largest and longest-living tree among all angiosperm (flowering) plants, is in the midst of a deadly crisis, with new research finding several of these ancient trees have recently died or are in the process of internal collapse.

Trees usually have their age counted by tree-ring dating (dendrochronology), but Patrut says the unusual biology of baobabs prevents this.

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".

"We felt as if we were the ones outliving the baobabs, instead of them outliving many generations of humans".

Since 2005, an worldwide team of researchers has investigated and dated practically all known very large and potentially very old African baobabs on the continent, about 60 trees in total.

Among the nine were four of the largest African baobabs.

They suspect climate change-and underground water that's harder for the roots to reach-may have something to do with the trees' demise, but also point out that over each one's life span, it has undergone wetter, drier, colder, and warmer conditions that stress the tree and sometimes kill other plants. They found that eight of the 13 oldest and five of the six largest trees had either completely died or had their oldest parts collapse.

The iconic tree can live to be 3,000 years old, according to the website of the Kruger National Park in South Africa, a natural baobab habitat.

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Further research is needed, said the team from Romania, South Africa and the United States, "to support or refute this supposition".

Researchers taking a survey of some of the world's oldest and funkiest trees have bad news to report: Africa's legendary baobobs are dying.

Its leaves are boiled and eaten as an accompaniment similar to spinach, or used to make traditional medicines, while the bark is pounded and woven into rope, baskets, cloth, and waterproof hats. Baobabs have broad trunks, or multiple stems coming out of the ground.

According to the Kruger Park, baobabs are "very hard to kill".

The others saw the death of one or several parts.

The oldest tree to suffer 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.

Elsie Cruywagen, a researcher at the Agricultural Research Council in Pretoria, says that there have been many reports over the decades of baobabs dying in times of drought.


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