And people suck, too. Something I was reminded of today, disaster from 1973:
The Ténéré wastelands of northeastern Niger were once populated by a forest of trees. By the 20th century, desertification had wiped out all but one solitary acacia.
The Tree of Ténéré, as it came to be called, had no companions for 400 kilometers in every direction. Its roots reached nearly 40 meters deep into the sand.
The tree had become a sacred object among the nomadic Tuareg people that would pass by it on their journeys, never using it for firewood, or allowing their camels to graze on it. As more desert explorers came across the shockingly hardy plant, it became quite well known and was even included as a landmark on European military maps of the otherwise desolate expanse during the 1930s. When Michel Lesourd of the Central Service of Saharan Affairs first came upon the tree in 1939, he wrote:
“One must see the Tree to believe its existence. What is its secret? How can it still be living in spite of the multitudes of camels which trample at its sides? How at each azalai does not a lost camel eat its leaves and thorns? Why don’t the numerous Touareg leading the salt caravans cut its branches to make fires to brew their tea? The only answer is that the tree is taboo and considered as such by the caravaniers. There is a kind of superstition, a tribal order which is always respected. Each year the azalai gather round the Tree before facing the crossing of the Ténéré. The Acacia has become a living lighthouse; it is the first or the last landmark for the azalai leaving Agadez for Bilma, or returning.”
For around 300 years, the Tree of Ténéré was fabled to be the most isolated tree on the planet. The acacia was the only tree for 250 miles in Niger’s Sahara desert, and was used as a landmark by travelers and caravans passing through the hostile terrain. The tree sprouted when the desert was a slightly more hospitable place, and for years was the sole testament to a once-greener Sahara.
In the 1930s, the tree was featured on official maps for European military campaigners, and a French ethnologist Henri Lhote called it, ”an Acacia with a degenerative trunk, sick or ill in aspect.” But he noted, as well, that “nevertheless, the tree has nice green leaves, and some yellow flowers.” The hardy tree, a nearby well showed, had reached its roots more than 100 feet underground to drink from the water table.
But then, in 1973, the centuries-old survivor met its match. A guy ran the tree over with his truck. The Libyan driver was “following a roadway that traced the old caravan route, collided with the tree, snapping its trunk,” TreeHugger reports. The driver’s name never surfaced, but rumors abound that he was drunk at the moment that he plowed into the only obstacle for miles—the tree.
Today, the tree’s dried trunk rests in the Niger National Museum, and a spindly metal sculpture has been erected in the place it once stood. The loneliest tree in the world is now this sad spruce on New Zealand’s subantarctic Campbell Island.