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Author Topic: THE SAHARA  (Read 4036 times)
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« Reply #15 on: May 16, 2009, 11:04:02 pm »

Muhammad Beddiaf was Abdoun’s co-author on a 2002 scientific paper on the tree census, which reported that, since the early 1970’s, 10 newly germinated trees, in addition to 13 previously uncounted ones, have slightly more than made up for the 20 that had died from cutting and burning.

Beddiaf, a specialist in the area’s rock art, imagines how the trees might be somehow connected to the rock artists. “These cypresses were present at the time of the artists—perhaps not these very same trees, but ones from which these have grown. The artists were surrounded by their greenery. They no doubt relaxed under their branches. So I find it odd that the trees should not be represented in their art.” Except for a few diagrammatic renderings of gardens, dating from the most recent artistic era known as “the camel and horse period,” only hunting and war scenes are represented, in which human and animal figures seem to hang in midair.

Tuareg oral literature too seems bereft of mention of the tarout. At the campfire, Beddiaf has an extensive command of his people’s poetry and song, but when pressed for an ode to the tarout, he can muster only a tribute to other trees—as firewood!

From the fire of the acacia,

Every day it throws off sparks.

From the fire of the iseem plant,

Every day you grill two mouflon.

From the fire of the ajar tree,

Every day you shoot the arrow straight.

From the fire of the tamarisk,

Every day you eat gazelle tripe.

Tarout in Tamashek is originally a butcher’s term for the windpipe and attached lungs of a grazing animal. It is said that the tarout tree, when its slightly asymmetrical crown is in robust foliage, takes on the shape of these organs held windpipe-down, and that the term was applied to the tree because of this resemblance. But trees are often given individual names as well, referring for instance to a person who uses the tree’s limbs to hang his goods on (Tin-Ambarak or Tin-Gaded), or to a local landmark, such as a nearby mountain (Tin-Tamanzazt) or a pool of water at the tree’s roots (Tin-Balalan).

Today, the Saharan cypress is closely studied by botanists, not only because of its rarity, but also because it is the only species in the plant kingdom known to reproduce by cloning its male genetic material through a process known as male apomixis. Female apomixis—the division of female cells inside a flower’s ovary as a means of seed formation—is common in several species, including dandelions and blackberries, but male cloning requires an additional step unique to the Saharan cypress: Pollen, carrying the male cells, enters the tree’s ovule, but instead of combining with the female cells, it divides internally to become a viable seed genetically identical to itself.
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