In June 2018 frightening images began to haunt the media:
Africa’s oldest baobab trees had been growing for 2,000 years – and now seemed to be dying all at the same time. How could they have aged so well for so long, and why did it end so suddenly?
For years, scientist A. Patrut from the Babes-Bolyai University of Cluj in Romania and his team had taken and analyzed samples of 60 ancient baobabs – originally to show how their special growth and vegetative structure could promote longevity. The trunks of the trees are always composed of many individual sub-trunks, which grow up in a ring around the middle of the tree. Often old specimens are hollow inside, as the earliest sub-trunks have already died off.
Through further random sampling it was then found that 9 of the 13 oldest and 5 of the 6 largest baobab trees in Africa have died in the last 12 years. First the individual, then all sub-tribes died.
Until now the researchers can only speculate about the cause of the tree-death: Clearly no epidemic, for example caused by plant-pests, is responsible. However, it is noticeable that in addition to the ancient trees, many younger trees also seem to die quite early naturally. Perhaps the climate change has an influence. How exactly it affects the vegetation in general and the baobabs in particular remains unclear.
Some, however, argue that there have been no studies on the death of Baobab trees in the past and that therefore it cannot be claimed that the Baobab giants die “suddenly”, as they may have done so in the past as well.
One thing is certain, however: The dying of the last great baobab trees not only represents a great loss of our world’s natural heritage, but also reminds us to care for and protect the remaining stock of baobabs.