Baobabs are huge trees that grow mainly in Africa. They can live for thousands of years. Scientist say that now the largest of these trees are dying off, probably because of climate change.
Baobabs are famous for growing in difficult conditions. Their trunks can be over 100 feet (30 meters) around. Normally, their roots can reach far down in the ground to find water. The trees are home to many smaller animals and plants. Elephants eat the bark for food and the water it holds.
Baobab trees are also an important symbol for many African people. The shelter of the trees is sometimes used for meetings. The fruits and other parts of the tree can provide food and medicine.
The shape of baobab trees is unusual. The trees often grow in a circle, leaving hollow places inside. Most scientists think this is because of the way the trees regrow after elephants eat their bark.
The empty areas inside the trees can be as big as small rooms. The Sunland Baobab Tree was large enough that 15 people could fit inside at the same time.
Most trees grow from the inside out, adding a ring of new growth each year. A common way to tell the age of a tree is by counting the growth rings in its trunk.
But baobab trees do not produce regular rings, so scientists have to use other ways to tell the age of the trees.
A group of scientists, led by Adrian Patrut, began studying baobab trees in 2005. They were trying to figure out how old the trees are. As they tried to answer this question, the scientists found out something sadder: the giant baobab trees are dying.
In the last 13 years, five out of the six biggest baobab trees have died or partly fallen down. The same thing is true for eight out of the 13 oldest trees. Scientists do not know for sure, but they think that the problem may be caused by climate change.
Mr. Patrut said, “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.” Mr. Patrut thinks that the oldest baobabs are around 2,500 years old. Some scientists think that they may be older.
Even though baobab trees seem to do well even when it is very dry, the heat of recent years seems to have been too much for the big trees.
Now that temperatures are higher, and there are longer times without rain, the old trees seem to be drying out. And as the biggest trees dry out, they don’t seem to be able to hold themselves up. When scientists tested one huge baobab that had died, they found that the wood had about half as much water as they expected.
For now, the only good news is that younger baobabs do not seem to be affected as much as the huge, older trees. Sadly, when one of the older trees goes, thousands of years of history go with it.
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