6 of the World's Most Endangered Trees Also Look the Strangest

Baobab trees against a pink sky
Madagascar's baobab trees are threatened because they live in isolation.

Mint Images / Art Wolfe / Getty Images

There are more than 60,000 species of trees in the world, all as wildly different and unique as human beings. Sadly, some of the most marvelous ones to admire are also the same ones threatened by deforestation, agricultural expansion, and an ever-changing climate. Of the some 20,000 tree species included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List, more than 8,000 are critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable to extinction.

From Madagascar's majestic Grandidier's baobab to a Brazilian conifer shaped like (and named after) a snazzy candelabrum, here are six strange trees that are either vulnerable or endangered.

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Dragon's Blood Tree

Cluster of dragon's blood trees in the desert at sunset
Don Whitebread / Getty Images

While this odd, umbrella-shaped tree has an ominous name (a reference to the dark-red sap it produces), the only thing spooky about it is its conservation status. The IUCN lists the dragon's blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari) as vulnerable due to an increase of development and tourism on its native Socotra, an archipelago in Yemen. However, sustained international conservation efforts show potential for a promising future.

Many years of geological isolation has made the Yemeni archipelago of Socotra home to some of the strangest flora and fauna on Earth. About 37% of its 825 plant species are endemic. The dragon's blood tree—with its densely packed, upturned crown—is one of the most bizarre.

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Grandidier's Baobab

Tall baobab trees standing in vast expanse against blue sky
Tuul & Bruno Morandi / Getty Images

Land where there was once a rich, diverse ecosystem of Malagasy forests now supports large swaths of agriculture that divide and separate populations of the island's native baobab trees. When separated, the grand, bulbous monoliths can't sustainably propagate future generations. Thus, the grandest of them all—Grandidier's baobab—is endangered.

In fact, three different baobab trees on Madagascar are endangered. The island is home to six of the world's nine Adansonia species, and Adansonia grandidieri is the biggest and most famous. Its smooth, cylindrical trunks can grow 10 feet wide and 100 feet high.

Most Grandidier's baobabs are now located within protected areas surrounded by agriculture. The lack of contiguous forests and wildlife to disperse their seeds has led them to the verge of extinction.

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Monkey Puzzle Tree

Scrubland and mountains with monkey puzzle trees in the foreground
Víctor Suárez Naranjo / Getty Images

For years, the main threat to the monkey puzzle tree of Chile and western Argentina was logging. In the decades since logging has been illegal, the 60% that remain in the wild continue to struggle due to persisting threats like seed collecting, animal grazing, and issues stemming from their geographic locations.

The monkey puzzle tree is most severely threatened in the north of its range in Argentina—and that's because plantations of exotic trees have been introduced nearby. The IUCN Red List, which considers the species endangered, points to anthropogenic fires as the biggest threat in Chile. With their poor rate of regeneration, it's especially difficult for these trees to make a sustainable comeback.

Despite its appearance, Araucaria araucana is not a true pine. It's actually in an ancient family all its own. Monkey puzzle trees are often described as "living fossils" because they've changed so little compared to their ancestors.

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Quiver Tree

Quiver trees emerging from boulders against pink sky

Ángeles Antolín / Getty Images

There are three subspecies of quiver tree: dichotoma, pillansii, and ramosissima. All are endemic to South Africa's Northern Cape region as well as select parts of southern Namibia. Two are listed on the IUCN Red List (ramosissima as vulnerable and pillansii as critically endangered), with climate change seemingly the culprit.

Quiver trees, as it turns out, are very sensitive to temperature changes. The increased droughts and worsening heat in its native part of Africa have wreaked havoc on the species. There are estimated to be fewer than 200 pillansii individuals left in the wild, and with little recruitment of younger plants coupled with older dying plants, their future looks bleak.

These strange trees belong in the aloe family, but they don't look like any other succulent you've seen. Rather, they look like trees that have been flipped upside down so their roots are where their crowns should be.

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Candelabra Tree

Candelabra trees growing on a lush grassy hillside
Leonidas Santana / Getty Images

Another living fossil from the Araucariaceae family, the candelabra tree split off from its nearest relative, the monkey puzzle tree, back when Australia, Antarctica, and South America were a single continent. Like its monkey-puzzling cousin, southern Brazil's Araucaria angustifolia has struggled on account of logging, expanding agricultural land, and overconsumption of its fruit and seeds. It has lost a staggering 97% of its population within its 90,000-square-mile natural range since the beginning of the 20th century.

Though critically endangered, candelabra trees (also known as Parana pines) have a striking, chandelier-esque appearance that make them a popular tree for inclusion in subtropical garden landscaping.

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Cucumber Tree

Barren cucumber trees growing on a rocky hillside

Rod Waddington / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Characterized by its pale, bottlelike trunk, the cucumber tree (Dendrosicyos socotrana) is endemic to Socotra, where dragon's blood trees are found. Like many species that develop on isolated islands, the odd tree is increasingly threatened by man-made forces—in this case, agriculture. Non-native animals such as goats are often allowed to graze on the tree, which impedes germination and growth.

In addition, the trees are often cut down in times of drought and used to feed livestock. This kind of agricultural pressure has led the IUCN to list the species as vulnerable.

Thankfully, not all cucumber tree individuals are threatened. When they're surrounded by a patch of dense shrub vegetation—such as fellow endemic species Lycium sokotranum and Cissus subaphylla—the trees are more protected from grazing goats.