Lone Acacia Tree in Sahara Desert Lone Acacia Tree in Sahara Desert

The Tree of Ténéré, Niger: The Sorrowful Story of the World’s No. 1 Solitary Tree

Trees are considered the lungs of the earth, and due to their abundance, it is rare for a single tree to get so popular.

However, some are well-known for their historical importance.

While others are known for their height and years of existence.

But no one does certify which is the most isolated tree in the remotest parts of the globe.

And that credit is taken over by the Tree of Ténéré in Niger. 

This acacia tree stood all by itself for many decades in the remote “desert within the desert” in the brutal terrain of Ténéré, located within the Sahara Desert. 

But today, it’s no more.

Just an ugly metal pole replaces the rueful grace of the Tree of Ténéré.

So, scroll down to know the tragic tale of this no-ordinary tree that has stolen the hearts of the Nigerians…!!

1. What is the Tree of Ténéré in Niger?

Last Tree of Ténéré | 100 Wonders | Atlas Obscura

L’Abre du Ténéré, or The Tree of Ténéré, is considered the most secluded and loneliest in the world.

It has existed in the dunes of the Sahara in Africa for over 300 years. 

It was the last surviving species of the acacia (Acacia tortilis, the umbrella thorn acacia) for over 150 kilometres in the sand-duned region from northeastern Niger to western Chad.

The route to Tree was a busy salt caravan route, and it served to help travellers navigate through the desert.

Hence, none of its branches were cut or used as fodder for camels. 

Nevertheless, the size of the tree was not more than 10 feet and was distinguished by its “Y” shaped trunks that were like an umbrella for shade. 

The Tuareg nomads, a tribe that thrived in Ténéré, considered the tree to be sacred.

They used the site for traditional ceremonial gatherings before sojourning the vast dune sea ahead. 

Here‘s the location of the once-lived Tree of Ténéré on the map!

2. How did it Manage to Live all These Years?

The Tree of Ténéré
By Andrew Slifkin/Unsplash. Copyright 2018

Well, it’s no surprise that this is the next question of curiosity that might tingle your brain!

The answer can be sourced from below the surface…

It was in the 1930s when the tree caught the attention of Michel Lesourd, a commander of the Central Service of Saharan Affairs.

When he saw the tree in 1939, this is how he described it;

“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.”

Also, he solved the puzzle of how the tree existed while battling the brutal temperatures in the Sahara. 

This was discovered when he began to dig a well close by. You may know now that the desert surface is mostly a wasteland.

So, the roots of this tree managed to go deep into the sand, over a hundred feet to the underground water table.

But the sad part is that its incredible roots could not save it from its unintentional demise.

Just like all living things, this tree that battled to thrive the odds stacked against it was destined to die one day.

And how it met its end has a lot more to say about human nature than of Nature itself!

3. The Tree of Ténéré Niger Story

Don’t you now think how a tree can survive in a desert? Well, I am getting that thought as I glide through writing this article…

So, it is time to buckle up as we step back in time to learn how life thrived in such an arid region.

3.1 The Evolution of the Sahara Region

Surviving the Sahara Desert with the World's Loneliest Tree

The desert we see today in the Sahara was not so a millennium earlier. 

Its evolution can be traced to the prehistoric period of Carboniferous when the entire place was a seafloor. 

Later, it became a wetter place and became a tropical forest that housed even dinosaurs!

Interestingly, it was a place to hunt the crocodile-like reptile sarcosuchus.

And this acacia tree was a part of a groove in that sizeable forest.

With the shift in climate, the region became an inhospitable area for forestry, thereby reducing it to a vast desert land. 

However, especially in the Ténéré region, there was a considerable drop in vegetation since the average rainfall was just 2.5 cm. 

Even the underground water tables were dried up, and just a handful of acacia trees remained in Ténéré. 

As time went by, all the trees in the groove died except for this tree, making it the only survivor across the 400-kilometer radius.

3.2 History of the Tree of Ténéré

The Tree of Ténéré
By Dominik Mecko/Unsplash. Copyright 2020

Archaeological studies have revealed the presence of human existence in the region of Ténéré up till the Paleolithic period (some 60,000 years backward in time).

These people hunted wild animals and left their presence in the region as stone tools.

Later, as the Neolithic period arose, some 10,000 years ago, there were records of human hunters prevalent in the region. 

Evidence of rock engravings and paintings created by them prove their existence. 

After many decades, in 1934, Henri Lhote, a French ethnologist and explorer, was the first to journey to the Tree of Ténéré.

On the occasion when he crossed between Djanet and Agadez on the first automobile, he came across this tree.

Despite its degenerative trunk, he says the tree appeared healthy, with vibrant, lush leaves and yellow flowers. 

After him, on May 21, 1939, Michel Lesourd, who was then a commander of the Central Service of Saharan Affairs, got a chance to glimpse at the tree.

3.3 Growing Popularity of the Tree

Ultimately, this tree became a landmark for desert travellers. 

However, during the winter between 1938 and 39, the French military coordinated to dig a well nearby, increasing the site’s utility. 

The following decades made this site for caravans to stop by and rest, taking water from the well. 

Also, locals found it helpful in navigating through the vast barren desert, giving the tree a ‘Living Lighthouse’ status. 

It became one of the sole reference points on the large-scale desert maps.

By the 1970s, passing caravans of camels became trucks. 

Now begins the tragic tale of the Tree of Ténéré death…

4. What Happened to the Tree of Ténéré Niger?

The Tree of Ténéré
By sunsinger/Depositphotos. Copyright

For 300 years, the Tree of Ténéré managed to keep itself as the most isolated tree on the planet.

But it all ended in the 19th century when its branches were first backed into by a military truck somewhere from 1939 to 1959.

 Henri Lhote, who visited the place after 25 years, on 26 November 1959, commented on the damage caused to the tree by the vehicle collision stating that;

Before, this tree was green and with flowers; now it is a colourless thorn tree and naked. I cannot recognise it — it had two very distinct trunks. Now there is only one, with a stump on the side, slashed, rather than cut a metre from the soil.

What has happened to this unhappy tree? Simply, a lorry going to Bilma has struck it… but it has enough space to avoid it… the taboo, sacred tree, the one which no nomad here would have dared to have hurt with his hand… this tree has been the victim of a mechanic…

However, the tree was not completely dead. 

Ultimately, its fateful day arrived in 1973 when a Libyan truck driver (who was probably drunk, according to what people say) snapped the tree trunk and made it completely difficult to survive…

It is said that he lost control of the vehicle and was carelessly lingering it on the vast expanse of the dunes until he ploughed into the only tree!

To date, the truck driver’s details remain unidentified.

And the corpse of the Tree of Ténéré, that is its stump, has been laid in the Niger National Museum.

As for where the Tree of Ténéré once stood, a metal monument has been erected by an unknown artist to commemorate its existence. 

It comprises oil barrels, recycled pipes, and discarded auto parts that probably symbolize the knocking down of the natural world by a careless mechanized society.

Even today, the tree is a reminder of the once majestic lonely acacia tree whose majestic limbs have comforted, amazed and guided travellers for many decades. 

5. Importance of the Tree of Ténéré for the Desert Ecosystem

You might be sad reading about the sad death of the tree. 

But your heart might be filled with sorrow because its death has affected the environment surrounding it. 

This tree was a vital component in providing shade and shelter from desert animals and insects. Also, desert herbivores depended on it for food.

Additionally, its roots kept the sand dunes stable to avoid encroachment on nearby settlements.

So, with its death, the local ecosystem has been significantly impacted and is a perfect example of the possibility of how human activity has far-reaching repercussions.

6. Keeping Alive the Tree’s Legacy

Today, the Tree of Ténéré lives in the form of a metal sculpture and is located in Agadez town in Niger. 

This place is also a highly visited area by tourists across the globe.

Although the original tree is no longer living there, its legacy continues to live to remind us about the fragility and beauty of the natural world.

7. The Tree of Ténéré Featured in Films

Tráiler Oficial de LA GRAN FINAL

The sculpture was erected on the place of the Tree of Ténéré, and its story has been showcased in the film La Gran Final (The Great Match), which came out in 2006.

It revealed a Tuareg nomad group running a helter-skelter in the Sahara to get broadcast reception and power supply to watch the 2002 FIFA World Cup Final between Brazil and Germany live on their television.

Finally, they use the metal sculpture of the tree as a makeshift antenna to watch the sport.

Later, in 2017, a group of artists created a 4-story tall LED gigantic sculpture titled Tree of Tenere, which was displayed at Burning Man.

Tree of Ténéré - Burning Man 2017

It comprised 175,000 LEDs in 25,000 moulded leaves.

Also, an official music video called ‘Transmission/Michaelion’ was released by Ibeyi in 2018 based on the tree’s story.

8. Conclusion

The Tree of Ténéré
By Wolfgang Hasselmann/Unsplash. Copyright 2018

Replanting a new tree has been practically impossible, so the metal sculpture was erected to honour it. 

But the legend of the Tree of Ténéré that once stood alone on the vast sand dunes continues to sojourn to date. 

Currently, two trees have been considered the world’s loneliest tree. 

One is the 1945 planted Sitka spruce on Campbell Island, a bit further away from New Zealand.

Its near neighbour is just 170 miles away. 

Unfortunately, these two were planted by humans and are not as prominent as the Tree of Ténéré, which was planted by nature. 

Another possible tree is the Encephalartos woodii, a rare cycad likely to be found in the Royal Botanic Gardens of London. 

This variety is said to have been extinct in the wild, leaving behind the male clones of the last tree here. 

So, what’s the most isolated tree on the planet now? Honestly, I’m baffled…!!

Get a glimpse of the Tree of Ténéré here to keep it alive in your heart…

Before you go, tap here to navigate through our website to get some useful and mind-boggling information to keep your memory refreshed and updated…!!

Last Updated on August 30, 2023 by apeksha

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