Primary producers—trees, plants, algae, and the like—support the entire ecology of the planet by harvesting energy through photosynthesis. Without plants, we do not exist. The biodiversity of flora across the planet reflects the richness of life on Earth, though many species face dire threats to their continued existence. The following seven species of trees are some of the rarest.
“Mpingo”—or African blackwood—is a tree that grows across Africa from Senegal to Eritrea. It takes its name from the color of its wood, featuring a dark, almost purple hue. The species is classified as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the organization that designates the endangered status of living things. While the African blackwood still grows in sizeable numbers in the wild, it is in danger because of its popularity as lumber for fine furniture and musical instruments. The combination of over-harvesting and lack of conservation efforts place the species at threat of extinction.
Saint Helena Gumwood
The Saint Helena gumwood is endemic to Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, extremely remote islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Though it once flourished on these South Atlantic islands, it was heavily forested for fuel usage by the East India company during settlement of the island and further damaged by invasive species of plants and animals. It has a characteristically gnarled trunk and blooms in both the winter and spring.
The national tree of Chile is the evergreen Chilean Pine, or Monkey Puzzle tree. The species is ancient, tracing its origin back to over 200 million years ago, with each individual tree living up to 1,000 years. Having evolved near volcanoes, the trees developed fire-resistant bark. Its seeds served as a staple of the Pehuenche people. The combination of mining, logging, and overgrazing has driven the species to endangered status.
African Baobab Tree
The iconic Baobab tree is another species with ancient origins around the same time of Chilean pine, 200 million years ago, with an impressive longevity of up to 5,000 years. The Baobab is featured prominently in African folklore as a symbol of the Tree of Life, in part explained by the nutrient-dense fruit that it provides throughout the dry season. The tree has been noted to serve up to 300 different uses in commerce, though climate change is decimating its numbers across the African continent.
Dragon Blood Tree
The Socotra dragon tree, also called the Dragon Blood tree, is native to Yemen along the Arabian Sea. It derives its name from the red sap it produces, which is used locally as a stimulant and abortifacient. The occult-like properties of the tree made it a popular source for reagents in alchemy and ritual magic, though it is industry and tourism that have posed threats to the number of the species, as well as the drying of the Socotra peninsula.
Lace Wood, or Bois Dentelle, is one of the rarest tree species in the world. There are only two remaining specimens in the wild. The trees grow plumes of bell-shaped white flowers and reside in the cloud forest of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Contrary to a number of other species on the endangered list, Bois Dentelle has not been driven to critical numbers for commercial uses, but rather because it has none, and has been replaced by other trees with commercial application.
Three Kings Kaikomako
Pennantia baylisiana—aka the Three Kings Kaikomako—is the rarest species of tree in the world. There is only one remaining species in the wild, on Three Kings Islands in New Zealand. The species was decimated by goats in the countryside, which were removed from its vicinity for conservation efforts. Things were looking grim for the Kaikomako as its only remaining specimen was female and could not reproduce. Since then, viable fruits were found and planted within botanical gardens around the world, while the single remaining wild tree grows on a slope at the northern face of the Great Island.