Africa’s strangest trees are stranger than thought—and they’re dying mysteriously
Monday, November 12, 2018
Posted by: Dana Walker
Africa’s baobab tree looks like something from a Dr. Seuss book. When young, the species
(Adansonia digitata) is single-stemmed, branchless, and sports fruit that resembles giant sausages. Now, researchers report things get even weirder as the tree grows older. Over its lifetime, its roots send up several more stems in a ring, which eventually fuse to form a cavity “inside” big enough for bars, churches, or prisons for people, and refuges for animals seeking relief from the hot sun. The work also addresses the mystery of why so many of these strange trees are dying.
To conduct the study, researchers combed books, articles, and the internet and asked local Africans in order to locate the biggest baobabs. The team leader is a nuclear chemist who loved giant trees and had developed a way to date ancient trunks without harming them. The scientists considered baobabs a good challenge because others had said wood was difficult to determine the age of. The team dated more than 60 of the trees, revealing that—unlike most other trees—the baobab grows new trunks, instead of branches, which eventually create their giant, hollow interiors.