It most certainly is a contender for the tallest tree in the continent of Africa. An isolated valley on the highest peak in the continent, Kilimanjaro, is home to Africa’s tallest native tree, which stands at an incredible 81.5 meters.
The imported Sydney blue gum (Eucalyptus saligna) specimen in Limpopo, South Africa, which perished in 2006, set the previous record for tallest tree in Africa. The colossus in Tanzania has now surpassed that mark.
Twenty years ago, while investigating Mount Kilimanjaro’s vegetation, Andreas Hemp of the University of Bayreuth in Germany discovered a group of towering Entandrophragma excelsum trees. However, it took a while for him and his crew to be able to precisely measure their heights using new instruments.
Between 2012 and 2016, they used laser tools to measure 32 specimens, and they discovered that the 10 highest ones varied in height from 59.2 to 81.5 meters and in diameter from 0.98 to 2.55 meters. Hemp calculates that the arboreal behemoths are 500–600 years old based on growth rates.
The tallest trees in the world are often not located in Africa; a 116-meter-tall sequoia tree may be found in North America, and a 100-meter-tall eucalyptus can be found in Australia.
This is largely due to a lack of research on African trees, which leads to the understudied nature of many of the continent’s tree species, as well as the fact that many of the continent’s tree species thrive in areas with little resources, which restrict them from growing too tall.
The latter is not the case in Kilimanjaro, where the growth of E. excelsum has likely been aided by a mix of nutrient-rich volcanic soils, high temperatures, and precipitation.
Sustaining and supporting life
The enormous trees are an integral part of the thriving ecology on the mountain, where they are home to ferns and a variety of other plants that rely on them for physical support. Hemp describes them as “like a metropolis in the jungle.”
However, illegal logging, which has devastated their priceless environment, poses a threat to the green giants. Therefore, the team advises that for protection, the valleys home to the giants be included to the nearby Kilimanjaro National Park.
This viewpoint is shared by David Seaborg of the World Rainforest Fund in Walnut Creek, California. The richness of plants, birds, and insects that benefit from the presence of trees, he notes, may also be preserved if we maintain the trees.
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