Giant Trees Discovered in Africa

As far as tall trees are concerned, Africa has long been excluded from the list... until now. During a recent botanical survey of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a research team located a stand of large trees tucked away in a remote valley. Some of these trees were giants.

Tall trees are the result of a perfect storm of evolutionary history and unique environmental conditions. From the redwoods of the Pacific Coast to the Eucalyptus of Tasmania, rich soils, low levels of disturbance, and competition for light have driven some species to grow to mind boggling proportions. It seems fitting then that Africa's tallest mountain was hiding its tallest trees all this time. 

The species in question is known scientifically as Entandrophragma excelsum and belongs to the mahogany family (Meliaceae). A total of 13 giant E. excelsum were found during this expedition. Heights ranged from a modest 53.7 meters (176 ft) to a staggering 81.5 meters (267) in height! Unlike other species in this "Tall Tree Club," E. excelsum produces wood of surprisingly low density. However, it is thought that this low density wood, which is much less costly to produce, allows the trees to grow quick enough to avoid being overrun by vines before it can make it to the canopy. Indeed, very few E. excelsum were found to have vines growing on them. 

Although these are nowhere near the tallest trees in the world, they nonetheless break the African tall tree record, which was previously held by a non native Eucalyptus that died in 2006. The reason these African giants were not found sooner has to do with the remote region in which they grow. The area around Mt. Kilimanjaro has not received much attention from botanists in the past, having been overshadowed by the biodiverse Eastern Arc Mountains further south. 

Aside from discovering these trees, botanical surveys of Mt. Kilimanjaro are revealing this region to be just as biodiverse as the Eastern Arcs. Sadly, because of its long history of agriculture and more recent history of illegal logging, the rich forests of Mt. Kilimanjaro are quickly disappearing. The research team stresses the need to protect this area before one of Africa's biodiversity hotspots, as well as its tallest trees, are lost forever. 

Further Reading: [1]