The Shepherd's Tree's Roots Are Nearly As Long As A Redwood Is Tall

Brilliance | Dec. 19, 2017

The world's tallest tree is the California redwood, which can easily grow up to 300 feet (91 meters) tall. That's above ground, at least. If you want to talk about the tree that reaches the greatest height above and below ground, well—South Africa's Shepherd's tree at least gives redwoods a run for their money.

Shelter From The Sun

The Shepherd's tree's scientific name, Boscia albitrunca, has surprisingly little to do with its impressive root structure. "Albitrunca" refers to its light-colored trunk, which, to be fair, is probably its most noticeable characteristic above ground. The name "Shepherd's tree" makes plenty of sense, however: its dense leaves provide much-needed shade in the searing heat of the desert it calls home. Its leaves and berries are also a nutritious food source for all sorts of animals.

Towering Underground

But if you could look beneath the ground, its roots would be an awe-inspiring sight. While the tree itself stands 20–30 feet (6–10 meters) tall, its root system is at least six times that long. According to a study published in the journal Oecologia, they can reach as far down as 223 feet (68 meters), making them the deepest known roots in the world. To put that in perspective, an Olympic swimming pool is 50 meters long, and the world's tallest redwood tree is only 75 feet (23 meters) taller than the Shepherd tree's roots are deep. Of course, this makes sense too: roots that long are powerhouses at sucking up water and nutrients, and a tree in the desert needs all the help it can get.

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