A photo shared on Facebook shows a rock formation that looks like the stump of an oversized tree, with jagged sides resembling tree bark and off-centre tree rings on its flat top.
The photo’s caption reads: “At its height this tree’s trunk was 2.5 miles across; the tree full grown would reach 10 miles into the sky.” That’s right: a tree 4 kilometres wide and 16 kilometres high.
While the photo is real, its caption is not.
Tunisian heritage site
The photo is of Tunisia’s Jugurtha Tableland, a flat-topped mountain close to the north African country’s western border with Algeria. Tunisia has started the process to have Jugurtha declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Jugurtha is a rock formation known as a “mesa” – a Spanish word for “table”. As National Geographic explains, mesas are formed by erosion, when water washes “smaller and softer types of rocks away from the top of a hill” to leave a flatter layer of stronger and more durable rock behind.
Cape Town’s Table Mountain is also partly mesa.
Most mesas are usually wider than they are tall. Jugurtha is 0.6 kilometres high, 1.5 kilometres long and 0.5 kilometres wide, which means it isn’t circular, like a tree.
And it’s clearly much smaller than the Facebook post claims.
A tree… how big?
The base of a tree 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) wide would cover an area of central Johannesburg from the magistrate’s court in the west to Jeppestown in the east, and Berea in the north to Doornfontein in the south.
A tree 10 miles high would reach 16 kilometres into the sky.
Most commercial aircraft cruise at an altitude of 6.6 miles, or 10.6 kilometres above sea level.
The world’s tallest building is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which has 163 above-ground storeys and a height to tip of 829.8 metres, or 0.83 kilometres. That’s just 5.2% of the height of this 16-kilometre-tall tree. It would take about 19 Burj Khalifa buildings, stacked on top of each other, to reach the height of the tree.
Why the story of ancient giant trees?
The claim that Jugurtha is actually the stump of an ancient giant tree is more than just a hoax. It comes out of a branch of the flat-earth conspiracy “theory”, based on an 80-minute YouTube video, that says the planet was covered in forests of towering trees – made of silicone.
The notion is that many of the planet’s large geologic rock formations are in fact the remnants of these massive trees.
“The giant trees of flat-earth theory are impossibly big,” Snopes says. “The tallest tree on earth, Hyperion, only measures 380.3 feet (115.9 metres) tall, about 4,900 feet short of a single mile, and well short of the 10- to 40-mile mark purportedly set by these ancient (and fictional) giant trees.”
Snopes adds: “It’s not clear what gigantic forests might have to do with a flat earth.” – Africa Check (24/01/19)
For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false
A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”. What should you do? First, don't delete!
Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.
Africa Check teams up with Facebook
Africa Check is a partner in Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.
The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.
You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.
Fighting coronavirus misinformation
Africa Check is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers fighting misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic.
Learn more about the alliance here.
© Copyright Africa Check 2020. Read our republishing guidelines. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website", with a link back to this page.