The Tragedy of the Tree of Ténéré

By | May 30, 2019

test article image
The Tenere in Niger. Source: (

In the heart of the Sahara is the “desert within the desert” the brutal region of the Ténéré. This sand-duned region stretches across northeastern Niger and western Chad and is extreme. Temperatures can reach highs of over 120°F, and the Ténéré sees roughly half an inch of rainfall annually. Ténéré means desert, if that wasn’t clear enough.

But curiously, it was not always so.

test article image
Tree of Tenere in 1961. Source: (

In prehistoric times, the Ténéré was wetter than it was now. Humans left their mark in the region with cave paintings and engravings. But wet periods alternated with arid, and the last truly hospitable period was roughly from 7,000 to 3,000 B.C. During this period so-called “Tenerian culture” emerged based on cattle ranching. This culture vanished as the land desertified.

As the Sahara expanded, vegetation diminished and then vanished. But a remnant of those flusher times existed until quite recently. An acacia tree, known as the Tree of Ténéré (Arbre du Ténéré) grew up in the middle of the waste, or at least it was the last member of some remnant grove. The tree was not exactly tall, it was not more than 10 feet high and was distinctive for its “Y” shaped trunks that created an umbrella of shade. In 1939 the French explorer Henri Lhote visited the tree and noted that while the trunk was degenerative, it had ample green leaves and yellow flowers. To be precise the tree was an Acacia tortilis, the umbrella thorn acacia.