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When the sentient aliens reach adolescence they mentally block out the rest of the tribe and die crossing a desert in a futile attempt to reach — we later learn — a similarly isolated female tribe and tree. Humans provide a waterway or divert a river across the desert to enable the offspring of the male and female free to meet and mate. The story ends with the first of the new seeds produced germinating.

I read it in an anthology before 1976. I imagined the aliens as small and frog-like, but whether that was just my imagination, I am not sure. The tree itself is non-sentient. The story is initially told from the POV of the tribal leader, who is trying to understand the mystery of why his people are compelled to die crossing the desert when they mature. The humans are mostly interstellar scientists and explorers.

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    Sounds a little like the "little brothers" from Orson Scott Cards Speaker For The Dead. Could it have been an earlier work by him? Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 7:42
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    Unlikely, but possible. Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 9:37
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    Good question. The telepathy doesn't seem required for the story.. except perhaps to lure them across the desert. IIRC the alien who departed across the desert, at the beginning of the story, is described as having closed off his mind. My memory is that this was in reference to others trying to establish telepathic communication..... But you are making me wonder. Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 20:51
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    This is reminiscent of The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. LeGuin, which first appeared in Again, Dangerous Visions, but the humans in that story are not beneficent by any stretch of the imagination.
    – Spencer
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 21:42
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    The humans were definitely beneficent - a bit like patronising colonial masters. I don't recall much of them,.except that they supplied the fix at the end, with the river or canal across the desert. It was the alien biology that stuck in my mind. Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 3:06

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It sounds like "Big Sword" by Paul Ash, a.k.a. Pauline Ashwell , legal name Pauline Whitby.

ISFDB gives it as published in Astounding Science Fiction, October 1958, with other later publications in (for example) Spectrum V. It's one of those stories that turns up in a lot of anthologies, and I've seen it in at least four. The date just about fits your 1960s/70s short story, especially if you found it in an anthology.

Here are some of the matches between your description and the story.

A tribe of telepathic male aliens ...

Big Sword [alien] decided that it was time to try a suggestion of his own. He thought—hard—on the proposition that the Big Creature [human] should turn round and look the other way.

The Big Creature ducked its head and blinked its eyes again. Big Sword got the impression that these reactions were caused by the strength of his thought. He tried again, gently.

... produced by a tree:

He was taller than the tallest by nearly an inch, because the pod that hatched him had hung on the Tree more than twenty days longer than the rest, kept from ripening by all the arts at the People's command.

When the sentient aliens reach adolescence they mentally block out the rest of the tribe and die crossing a desert in a futile attempt to reach — we later learn — a similarly isolated female tribe and tree:

He [Big Sword] came to the edge of the forest, where the trees stopped short on the edge of the Great Rift. Some twenty of so of the People were gathered on the edge of the sheer cliff. Longfoot sat among them, his legs twitching occasionally with the urge to be off. As Big Sword arrived Longfoot shot to his feet, eager to depart.

"Where are you going?" demanded Big Sword. "What will you find over there, Longfoot? Why do you want to cross the waste, with no water and no shade? You will be dried to a stick before you get halfway across."

But Longfoot's mind was shut off; he had no longer any interest in Big Sword, or the People, or the danger to the Tree. He did not know why he had to go down on to the waste of boulders and small stones, but the urge could no longer be resisted. He dropped over the edge of the cliff, bouncing from ledge to ledge until he reached the bottom, and set off across the wide, rock-strewn plain, along the lines of shadow cast by the newly risen sun.

Humans provide a waterway or divert a river across the desert to enable the offspring of the male and female free to meet and mate:

Jordan stood at the edge of the Rift and looked over the embryo river-valley that Tiven had designed.

The story ends with the first of the new seeds produced germinating.

Big Sword, from his perch on Ricky's shoulder, noticed the couple with the pod. He saw that this one was fertile, all right—the shoot was beginning to form inside it.

I imagined the aliens as small and frog-like, but whether that was just my imagination, I am not sure:

From the British Astounding, January 1959. Art by Kelly Freas, but erroneously attributed to van Dongen

I note that this question has been answered before here, at "Book about a boy born on spaceship who befriends some alien bugs when they get to the destination planet". That answer, by Ross Presser, mentioned that the story can be found at the Internet Archive. The link is to their copy of the Astounding, which contains several other classics: Clifford Simak's "The Big Front Yard", Rog Phillips's "The Yellow Pill", and perhaps Randall Garrett's "... And Check the Oil". It's interesting that Kingsley Amis chose to analyse this issue in New Maps of Hell. He classified "Big Sword" as falling into a familiar SF category, the biological puzzle. In this particular story, something is also being said about the rights of the insignificant and the outlandish.

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  • That's fantastic. Yes, definitely the right story. I had almost given up hope.of ever finding it again. Many, many thanks Commented Jul 23, 2020 at 10:25

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