This iconic tree of Southern Africa is known to reach the ripe old age of 450 years, but climate change has shortened its lifespan dramatically.
Scientists have proof that shifting rainfall patterns caused by climate change had a lot to do with this plant’s steep decline in population. The quiver tree is drying out so quickly that estimates suggest less than 3,000 remain in the wild today.
That’s a significant drop for a tree that has survived thousands of years in intensely hot and arid areas, perhaps the only perennial species able to tolerate such extreme conditions. Its hollow branches hold water, but rising temperatures make it hard for the plant to retain enough moisture.
As older plants are dying, few seedlings are sprouting up to take their place. Based on current rates of decline, one site stands to lose an entire quiver tree population in about 70 years. The plant is also highly sought after by collectors, and baboons and porcupines gnawing at the stems may already have wiped out a third of its population.
The quiver tree is a symbol of the Succulent Karoo Biodiversity Hotspot, a relative “rain forest” of unique desert-adapted plants and wildlife. This plant provides shelter, nectar, food, and moisture for many other species, so even a slight drop in number can be harmful to local ecosystems.
We’re working with the Richtersveld Community Conservancy, which is breeding this species and will likely be the most important area to ensure its survival in the future.