Scientists shocked by mysterious deaths of ancient trees

Africa's strangest trees are stranger than thought—and they're dying mysteriously

"Nine of the 13 oldest ... 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‚ calling it "an event of an unprecedented magnitude".

The Zimbabwean sacred baobab, Panke, was more than 2,400 years old when all its stems toppled and died in 2010-11.

A team of researchers led by scientists from Babes-Bolyai University in Romania has been regularly visiting Africa's oldest baobab specimens, measuring their dimensions and observing their health, one by one, since 2005.

Among the nine were four of the largest African baobabs.

A tree regarded as the icon of the African savannah is dying in mysterious circumstances.

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

"Statistically, it is practically impossible that such a high number of large old baobabs [could] die in such a short time frame due to natural causes", Patrut told National Geographic.

Old trees eventually die.

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All affected Baobab trees were in southern Africa.

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.

The African baobab is the biggest and longest-living angiosperm tree. When they are not flowering, these iconic trees' branches resemble roots reaching into the sky.

The baobab tree, often referred to as the "tree of life" for its ability to produce nutrient-rich fruit even during Africa's harsh dry season, can live to be 3,000 years old, and can grow as wide as the length of a bus.

Baobab trees commonly form multiple stems, and though the walls of these stems, or trunks, can hold large amounts of water, numerous stems are hollow. It serves as a massive store of water and bears fruit that feeds animals and humans. Its leaves are boiled and eaten‚ while its bark is pounded and woven into rope‚ baskets‚ cloth and waterproof hats. Michael Wingfield, a plant pathologist at the University of Pretoria, tells Sarah Wild at Nature that the sample size is very small and the study does not fully rule out a disease afflicting older trees. The scientists considered baobabs a good challenge because others had said wood was hard to determine the age of. Scientists are finding that these trees are dying in rapid numbers.

The others saw the death of one or several parts. The tree started to split in 2016 and collapsed completely the following year. The biggest‚ Holboom‚ was from Namibia. It stood 30.2 metres (99 feet) tall and had a girth of 35.1 m.

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.

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