South Africa’s Biggest and Oldest Tree East of Tshipise in Mpumalanga, at the Sagole Spa, you will find the largest Baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) in the country. It is commonly known as the “Big Tree” and is estimated to be over 3000 years old. it has a girth of 43 meters, a stem diameter of 11 m, a height of 22 m and a crown spread of 38 m. This tropical African tree species is the undisputed king of the savannah trees of Africa. Almost every part of the tree is useful to man.
The Baobab tree occurs in Africa, Madagascar and northwest Australia. It is thought to be a relic of the flora of Gondwanaland, the super-continent that was once comprised of Africa, Antarctica, Australia and South America. According to African folklore, when the gods gave every animal a tree, the hyena, having arrived late, received the Baobab. He was so disgusted that he planted it upside down. See PlantZAfrica for much more on the Baobab.
The other “Big Tree” is a Yellowwood Tree – 1km East of Storms River in the Eastern Cape. A signpost on the N2 points the way to the Big Tree, and a 500m walk into the forest brings you to a gigantic Yellowwood tree, which is said to be 800 years old. It’s crown has a circumference of 33 meters and it takes eight people to encircle it’s 9m diameter trunk. It is over 36m high.
The Deepest Roots
A Wild Fig tree at Echo Caves, near Ohrigstad, Mpumalanga, South Africa, has roots reaching 400 feet (120m) making it the deepest a tree’s roots have been measured to penetrate.
The Fastest Growing Tree In 1974, it was noted that an Albizzia falcata in Sabah, Malaysia had grown 35 feet and 3 inches in 13 months, an approximate rate of 1.1 inches per day.
The Greatest Girth In the late 18th century a European Chestnut known as the Tree of the Hundred Horses on Mount Etna in Sicily, in Italy had a circumference of 190 feet. It has since separated into three parts.
The Most Dangerous Tree The Manchineel Tree of the Caribbean coast and the Florida Everglades is a species that secretes an exceptionally poisonous and acid sap. Upon contact to the skin, a break out of blisters would occur. In the occasions where there is contact to the eye, a person can be blinded. A bite of its fruit causes blistering and severe pain. This tree has been feared ever since the Spanish explorers came to the Americas in the 16th century.
The Most Massive Tree The “Lindsey Creek Tree”, a Coast Redwood with a minimum trunk volume of 90,000 cubic feet and a minimum total mass of 3630 tons was the most massive known tree until it blew over in a storm in 1905. The most massive living tree is “General Sherman”, a Giant Sequoia found in the Sequoia National Park in California. It is 275 feet tall with a girth of 102 feet and 8 inches.
The Oldest Tree Found in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in California, the oldest tree recognized is a Redwood known as Eternal God. The tree is believed to be 12,000 years old, although it is argued as being only 7,000 years old, which still makes it the oldest.
The Slowest Growing Tree A White Cedar located in the Great Lakes area of Canada, has only grown to less than 4 inches tall during its 155 years.
The Tallest Tree In 1872, an Australian Eucalyptus at Watts River, Victoria in Australia was said to measure to 435 feet, but it is speculated that it probably measured to over 500 feet at some point in its life. The tallest living tree is a Coast Redwood known as the “Mendocino Tree” found in Montgomery State Reserve in California. This tree, which is over 1000 years old, is more than 367 feet and 6 inches tall and still growing.
The Largest Forests At 2.7 billion acres, the coniferous forests of northern Russia are the world’s largest forests, covering 25% of the world’s total. The Amazon Basin is the largest forest in the tropics with about 815 million acres.
Tree Product Consumption On average, each American uses more than 600 pounds of paper and almost 200 board feet of timber per year.
Forest Debris More than 2000 pounds of leaves, twigs, seeds, tree trunks, and branches may rain down each year upon an acre of forest floor. This debris is later returned to the soil by organisms that aid in decomposition.
Endangered Trees Around the World
African Blackwood, which is also known as Mpingo in Swahili is considered to be the national tree of Tanzania, despite the fact that it is native to 26 African countries, ranging from northern Ethiopia, to the south in Angola, also spreading from Senegal across to Tanzania. Mpingo not only improves soil fertility, but is also good at maintaining soil stability. Its leaves offer feed for migrating herbivores and for domestic livestock. The mature African Blackwood trees are capable of surviving fires that destroy other vegetation in grasslands. The dark heartwood of Mpingo, is one of the most economically valuable timbers in the world.
Bois Dentelle is a beautiful tree, endemic to the high cloud forest of Mauritius. Despite the fact that it has no commercial value, only two individuals are left. The most remarkable thing about the species are the flowers – sprays of white bell flowers with fine lacy petals that cover the tree in summer (January –March).
The Clanwilliam Cedar is a species endemic to the Cederberg Mountains in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. A majestic tree of 6-18 meters in height, the Clanwilliam Cedar is a rot-resistant, fragrant and visually beautiful timber that was extensively exploited for building, furniture and later on telegraph poles by European settlers in the eighteenth century.
The Dragon Tree is found on the Canary Islands, Cape Verde Islands, Madeira and Morocco. The Guanche people of the Canary Islands used the sap for mummification purposes. In Ancient Rome, Sangre de Drago (Dragon Tree) was used as a colorant and across Europe it has been used as a varnish for iron tools. The species is classified as being “Endangered” by Cape Verde, while it is identified as being extinct in the wild on Brava and Santiago where only planted specimens exist today.
The Honduras Rosewood is found in Belize in Central America and produces timber, which is extremely valued on the world market because of its use in musical instrument production. Since the Honduras Rosewood supplies hard, heavy, durable and very resonant timber, when struck, it gives off a clear, loud note and making it itself most highly valued in the production of orchestral xylophones and claves. It is also used to make thin covering for fine furniture and cabinets, , knife handles etc.
The Loulu is a palm tree endemic to the northernmost island of the Hawaiian Island chain with the most variety of plant species of any island in Hawaii. There are fewer than 300 individuals of the Loulu left, because of limited regeneration caused by seed predation by rats and pigs as well as competing plants.
The Monkey Puzzle is the National Tree of Chile. Nevertheless, there is at least one of these trees in every botanical garden in Europe. Its local name is Pehuén and its existence has great historical and social importance to the people living in that area known as the Pehuenche, which means “people of Pehuén”. The seeds of the tree shape an important part of their diet.
Nubian Dragon Tree is found in Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda and was once a widespread and abundant species. It is one of the few species that can survive wide periods of drought in all parts of its scope, hence making it an important part of the desert ecosystem. The mature fruits of the Nubian Dragon tree are eaten and its sap and fruit may also have medicinal properties.
Pau Brasil is the national tree of Brazil, making it have strong cultural links to Brazil’s social and economic history. The species is known for the dye extract taken from the heartwood, for which it has been exploited since 1501. Presently, the dye extract and its bark are used locally for medicinal purposes. Research is being carried out to find out whether the bark of this tree can be used as a cure for cancer. Pau brasil wood is hard and compact, which is almost indestructible and was traditionally used to make hunting tools; commercially, it was harvested for use as a construction timber and in craftwork. It is also highly valued by musical instrument makers and still being exported for the production of bows for stringed instruments.
Hinton’s Oak (Quercus hintonii), also known as Encino of Hinton, is endemic to Mexico. Some of the wood’s uses range from locally made tool handles, to beams and fencing poles, and primarily for firewood. Traditionally the wood is used to bake bread known as “las finas”, which the distinctive taste is brought on by the smoke. The species has also been highly affected by grazing, which prevents regeneration as well as the coming up of agriculture, coffee plantation and road construction have all contributed to the decline in the Quercus hintonii populations.
St Helena Gumwood was selected as St. Helena’s national tree in 1977. The endemic floras of St Helena are not only of great biogeographical significance, but St Helena is also home for equally rare and unusual animal species. The St. Helena Gumwood is one of the fourteen most globally endangered tree species. It is threatened by human presence and their use of the timber for firewood and building.
The Wollemi Pine belongs to the ancient Araucariaceae species, thought to be over 200 million years old. Until 1994, the Wollemi Pine was believed to have become extinct about 2 million years ago, but it was rediscovered in a gorge 150 km north-west of Sydney, Australia. There are less than 100 mature trees in the wild, making it one of the rarest species in the world. Because of this rarity, the Wollemi attracts a lot of tourism, which threatens its existence, for it may be disturbed by human activities, also exposing it to seeds being trampled, compaction of the soil, the introduction of weeds and an increase in the possibility of fires.