Quite famous when it comes to trees, due to its appearance in popular films like The Lion King, and even an appearance in a video game (Archeage) the Baobab despite its rather pretentious attitude is a beautiful tree that adorns the African bushveld with an almost regal quality.
Its vernacular name, baobab, comes from the Arabic word buhibab, which means father of many seeds. The scientific name Adansonia refers to the French botanist Michel Adanson who observed a specimen on the island of Sor in Senegal in 1749. Digitata refers to the digits (fingers) of a human hand as its compound leaves are usually arranged in groups of five, sometimes up to seven.
Baobab trees are deciduous, meaning the tree sheds its leaves in autumn and are often bare during the winter months in the Kruger National Park, from May through to September.
Sometimes referred to as the “upside down tree” due to its appearance that indicates its root system is dangling in mid air where its branches should be, the baobab is not only found in Africa. Australia, India, Ceylon and Madagascar also have a few specimens of their own.
They are not found throughout the Kruger National Park and start making an appearance on the drive from Skukuza to Satara preferring the slightly drier regions in the central and northern areas of the Kruger National Park. They are typically not located naturally in the southern areas of the Kruger National Park such as Pretoriuskop and Skukuza
Baobab trees range in size from a few metres right up to giant trees as tall as 30 metres high. They have massively large trunks, the largest recorded to date having a circumference of a mighty 47 metres! They also live for many years, in some cases over 2000 years, as was the case of a specimen found in Zimbabwe, known as the Panke baobab that lived to a ripe old age of 2450 years. This age made it the oldest angiosperm (flowering plant) ever documented and it died in 2011. Growth rings are not a reliable means of aging baobab trees as their growth rings are often too faint to read accurately. Therefore Radiocarbon dating is used.
Apart from being know as the “upside down tree”, its also sometimes called “the tree of life” for various reasons:
Quite a few legends and myths are associated with this tree from potential lion (Panthera leo) attacks to whoever picks up its delicate white flowers from the ground to protection from crocodile attack to people who drink water wherein baobab seeds have soaked.
In Zambia legend has it that a ghostly python inhabits a tree where it was shot by a hunter. This specific python was worshipped by the local tribes and was believed to answer their prayers for rain, crops and fine hunting The locals are adamant that some nights you can hear the snake hissing from the tree.
Baobab trees are pollinated by bats, who pollinate white flowers that bloom at night and fall off the tree within 24 hours. The flowers are large enough to support a bat who laps up the nectar and because only a few flowers open at the same time, the bats need to move from tree to tree which promotes cross-pollination.
Baobabs are also resistant to ring barking, an important life skill when animals like elephant enjoy feasting from their soft, spongy, water filled bark. The bark is also very fibrous and is dried and used to make rope, baskets and even musical instrument strings.
Many people in Africa’s rich and colourful history have spent time sitting under a baobab tree in the heat of the day contemplating life and its intricacies. Cecil John Rhodes and Thomas Baines included! Your dreams to do the same can also become a reality! See you soon, in the Kruger National Park.
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