NPR: Why Are Some of Africa's Biggest Baobab Trees Dying Off?

One of the continent's oldest and weirdest living things is facing a sudden decline-and scientists think they know why. 

 The Platland tree in South Africa was the home of a cocktail bar until it started to split apart. (Courtesy Adrian Patrut)

The Platland tree in South Africa was the home of a cocktail bar until it started to split apart. (Courtesy Adrian Patrut)

This story first appeared in NPR. 

Baobab trees — ancient, otherworldly behemoths with bulbous trunks that splinter into a constellation of spindly branches — are some of Africa's most iconic living things.

Until late last year, the Platland tree in South Africa, also known as Sunland, was their queen. It was the continent's biggest baobab, at 111 ft. around, 62 ft. high and more than 1,000 years old. It had a cavernous central hollow that hosted a fully functional cocktail bar with seating for 15 people.

Beginning in Spring 2016, the tree began to split apart. By November 2017, it had crumbled completely.

The bar's owners blamed rot caused by heavy rain and threw a barbeque to honor its passing.

But if the Platland's demise was sudden and tragic, it wasn't unique: A new survey of baobab trees across several countries in southern Africa found that most of the two dozen oldest and biggest trees have died or significantly deteriorated in the last decade.

Scientists are wondering what's behind the mysterious die-off — and are looking at climate change as a likely culprit.

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