Quiver Kingdom

Quiver trees thrive in arid conditions, but as climate change makes the Namib Desert hotter and drier,

--can these immobile icons find a way to beat the heat?

As the full moon rises over the Namib Desert, the region’s titans are revealed, their bifurcated branches silhouetted against the night sky. Quiver trees (Aloidendron dichotomum) are a unique and quintessential part of this seemingly inhospitable landscape in southern Namibia and northern South Africa. These giants reach heights of 10 meters (33 feet) and can live up to 350 years. Their succulent leaves, branches, and trunks are well-adapted for conserving the desert’s precious water, while their shallow root systems have evolved to allow the trees to absorb rainfall quickly, before it evaporates or percolates through the porous soil and out of reach.

Quiver trees support a wide variety of creatures in the desert. Birds, insects, and mammals, including baboons, rely on the nectar in their flowers for moisture and sustenance. As some of the few elements on the landscape with any height, the trees act as nesting sites for sociable weaver birds (Philetarius socius) and perches for raptors. The trees provide resources for humans, too; indigenous San hunters hollowed out the branches to construct quivers to carry their poisonous arrows, which is what gives the tree its common name.

While the trees have carved out an impressive niche in this extreme environment, they don’t have a lot of wiggle room within it. Quiver trees are surprisingly sensitive to changing conditions—especially high temperatures and drought, which is exactly the trend predicted for this part of the world as the global climate changes.