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For centuries, the world’s most isolated tree stood against all odds in the Sahara Desert. The only tree for over 95 miles (150 km), the Tree of Ténéré was a 10-foot (3-m) tall acacia that remarkably survived while others from an ancient grove had long perished. Its presence in northeastern Niger stood as a reminder that the Sahara was once a greener, more hospitable place. Sadly, the Tree of Ténéré, widely regarded as the "loneliest" tree in the world, suffered an unusual end in 1973 when a drunk driver reportedly knocked it over.
Revered by the Tuareg people, a nomadic tribe in the region, the Tree of Ténéré was used as a landmark for generations by travelers on a long-established caravan route from Niger to Algeria. As the only tree for miles, it was even included on European military maps. In the late 1930s, Michel Lesourd, France’s Commander of Allied Forces, marveled at its resilience, writing, “What is its secret? How can it still be living in spite of the multitudes of camels which trample at its sides?"
Around the same time, a well was dug near the Tree of Ténéré, revealing that its roots stretched all the way down to the water table, a distance of roughly 100 feet (30.5 m). This revelation provided a clue to its survival in such an arid, sandy environment.
However, it was not the unforgiving landscape or a passing camel that destroyed the Tree of Ténéré. In 1973, a Libyan truck driver veered into its path, crashing into its branches and snapping its trunk. The unidentified driver was thought to be drunk at the time, which might explain how he managed to collide with the only obstacle for miles.
Today, all that remains of the iconic tree is a dried trunk, now located in the National Museum of Niger. A metal structure has been erected at the spot where the Tree of Ténéré once stood, to honor its legacy.
Three tree facts:
- The world’s oldest tree is named Methuselah and is located in the White Mountains of eastern California. A Great Basin bristlecone pine, it is estimated to be around 4,850 years old.
- Known as Hyperion, the world’s tallest tree stands in Redwood National Park, California. It is a coastal redwood and is over 377 feet (115 m) tall.
- The study of tree rings is called dendrochronology. Examining the rings in cross-sections of trees can reveal important data about the age of trees and forests, as well as the history of past climates.