Happy Earth Day 2019

22 Apr

“…Age of darkness. Age of light. Age of industry. Age of pollution and blight…”

The above preview is taken from Amunet’s Fables book 7 ‘Crystalline Towards The Grid’ in the fable ‘Is This Earth?’ and is referring to the irreversible damage being caused by industrialisation and the slow death of our planet. The Earth Day Celebration is featured in the story and it is Earth Day today…

Baobab Avenue Madagascar

What are Earth Day protestors so concerned about? Studies have found that the impact of atmospheric pollutants are directly impacting earths fauna and flora in ways never before seen in the history of our planet. Trees and plants are our main source of oxygen, so when the last tree dies, the last human will follow. This really is a matter of life and death. Researcher Aida Cuni Sanchez has done extensive research on the negative impact of global warming on our planet and has written the following article:

Nine out of 13 of Africa’s oldest and largest baobab trees have died in the past decade, it has been reported. These trees, aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years old, appear to be victims of climate change. Scientists speculate that warming temperatures have either killed the trees directly or have made them weaker and more susceptible to drought, diseases, fire or wind.

Old baobabs are not the only trees which are affected by climatic changes. Ponderosa pine and pinyon forests in the American West are dying at an increasing rate as the summers get warmer in the region. In Hawaii, Ohi’a trees are also dying at faster rates than previously recorded.

Since baobabs produce only faint growth rings, researchers used radiocarbon dating to analyse samples taken from different parts of each tree’s trunk and determined that the oldest (which is now dead) was more that 2,500 years old.

They also have more than 300 uses. The leaves, rich in iron, can be boiled and eaten like spinach. The seeds can be roasted to make a coffee substitute or pressed to make oil for cooking or cosmetics. The fruit pulp has six times more vitamin C than oranges, making it an important nutritional complement in Africa and in the European, US and Canadian markets.


The fruit of the baobab tree is rich in vitamin C, making it an important nutritional supplement  (Aida Cuní Sanchez)

Locally, fruit pulp is made into juice, jam, or fermented to make beer. The young seedlings have a taproot which can be eaten like a carrot. The flowers are also edible. The roots can be used to make red dye, and the bark to make ropes and baskets.

Baobabs also have medicinal properties, and their hollow trunks can be used to store water. Baobab crowns also provide shade, making them an idea place for a market in many rural villages. And of course, the trade in baobab products provides an income for local communities.

Baobab trees also play a big part in the cultural life of their communities, being at the centre of many African oral stories. They even appear in The Little Prince, the most famous book byAntoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Cultivating baobab

Baobab trees are not only useful to humans, they are key ecosystem elements in the dry African savannas. Importantly, baobab trees keep soil conditions humid, favour nutrient recycling and avoid soil erosion. They also act as an important source of food, water and shelter for a wide range of animals, including birds, lizards, monkeys and even elephants – which can eat their bark to provide some moisture when there is no water nearby. The flowers are pollinated by bats, which travel long distances to feed on their nectar. Numerous insects also live on the baobab tree.

Ancient as they are, baobab trees can be cultivated, as some communities in West Africa have done for generations. Some farmers are discouraged by the fact that they can take 15-20 years to fruit – but recent research has shown by grafting the branches of fruiting trees to seedlings they can fruit in five years.

Many “indigenous” trees show great variation in fruit morphological and nutritional properties – and it takes years of research and selection to find the best varieties for cultivation. This process, called domestication, does not refer to genetic engineering, but the selection and cultivation of the best trees of those available in nature. It seems straightforward, but it takes time to find the best trees – meanwhile many of them are dying.

The death of these oldest and largest baobab trees is very sad, but hopefully the news will motivate us to protect the world’s remaining large baobabs and start a process of close monitoring of their health. And, hopefully, if scientists are able to perfect the process of identifying the best trees to cultivate, one day they will become as common in our supermarkets as apples or oranges.

Aida Cuni Sanchez is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of York. This article first appeared on TheConversation.com 

Sponsored by Amunet’s Fable Crystalline Towards The Grid (book 7 in the series)

‘Crystalline Towards The Grid’ by Amunet Hall, a collection of short stories including:

Towards The Light

Lights Out

Is This Earth?

Giants Marching

Happy Earth Day 2019

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