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Climate Change Might Be Killing Off Baobab Trees

by Shelby Hawkins on June 12, 2018

Africa’s affectionately named “Tree of Life”, the Upside Down Tree, or the more commonly known baobab tree is dying.

Climate change is likely the killer of the heart of African remedies and folklore. The study, The Demise of the Largest and Oldest African Baobabs, discovered that 8 out of the 13 oldest trees in Africa have died over the past decade.

Due to the progression of climate change, the authors suggest that this may be the cause.

“The deaths of the majority of the oldest and largest African baobabs over the past 12 years is an event of an unprecedented magnitude,” the study states, “These deaths were not caused by an epidemic, and there has also been a rapid increase in the apparently natural deaths of many other mature baobabs.

From 2005 to 2017, researched used radiocarbon dating to analyze more than 60 of the largest and potentially oldest baobab trees in Africa. They were surprised that most of the oldest and biggest died within those 12 years.

Overall, five of the six largest baobabs either died or their oldest parts significantly deteriorated.

Chemist and lead author, Adrian Patrut, based in Romania’s Babeș-Bolyai University, told NPR that “such a disastrous decline is very unexpected. It’s a strange 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. It’s statistically very unlikely.”

African baobab trees’ demise is not only significant to the environmental scientists who are interested in nature preservation, they hold a deeply spiritual meaning for many Senegalese and southern African cultures.

It possesses Vitamin C, as well as antioxidants, which contribute to a healthy immune system and clear skin.

Dead relatives may be buried at the base of the tree, so that their soul can be intertwined with this giving tree.

The baobab gives to people blindly, seeking nothing in return.

According to an old folklore, the baobab tree was solely made for the purpose of giving. Others trees, which are very beautiful (unlike the upside down tree), lack the same specialities.

An old story gives an explanation to the appearance of the baobab tree:

Many ages ago, according to some African tales, the very first baobab tree sprang out of the earth next to a little lake. As the tree continued to grow taller and taller, it enjoyed watching the other trees. Other trees carried vibrant flowers and great big leaves on their straight and narrow trucks.

One day the coursing wind left for a while – long enough to leave the lake water so smooth that the tree finally got to see its own reflection. Upon seeing itself, the tree was shocked and rather upset because his appearance did not match that of the other trees.

The baobab tree had no brightly colored flowers adorning its branches, and its leaves were quite too small. It was grossly fat, and its bark could be mistaken for an old wrinkled elephant. The tree was disappointed to say the least.

In the tree’s outrage, it turned its frustration to the creator, crying about how awful of a deal he had been given in life. The baobab demanded to know why he was not perfect like earth’s other creations.

“Do you find the hippopotamus beautiful?” The creator inquired, “Or what about the hyenas cry, is it pleasant?”

As the baobab watched the creator wistfully crawl back into into the clouds, it was unsatisfied with this answer and still protested at its reflection. It cried and wailed at its own dismay.

“Ungrateful!” The creator shrieked in irritation, swooping down from the sky. Seizing the tree by its trunk, it ripped the baobab out of the ground and shoved it back into the soil upside down, so it could never see its reflection again.


Featured Image via Pixabay


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Shelby Hawkins
My name is Shelby, like the mustang, and I am an avid lover of photography, literature and desserts. I identify as a proud feminist and Pan-Africanist; hopefully that manifests in my writing.