The Baobab Tree

The Baobab are distinctive trees recognisible by their distinctive swollen trunk’s.

Africa's beautiful baobab treeBaobab is the common name for the trees of the genus Adansonia —along with the names boab, boaboa, bottle tree, upside-

down tree, and monkey bread tree. The genus contains nine different species, six of which are native to Madagascar, two native to the African mainland, one to Australia, and one to the Arabian Peninsula. One of the species native to the African mainland was only identified as a unique species just last year — in 2012.

It’s a tiny – and very distinctive family of trees. The baobab itself is anything but tiny. This is the monster of the African bush – a vast fleshy giant which looks over the acacia scrub-land and Mopani woodlands waving its Medusa-like branches about a bulbous body.

The tree has been called a variety of names:  “The Tree of Life”  – “Bottle tree”  –  “Monkey Bread Tree” and, the “Upside down tree”

There is an interesting reason behind every name this tree has.  It’s called “The Tree of Life” because it provides shelter, clothing, food and water for animals and humans alike. A perfect cosy space for anyone to live. The bark and stem are also used for making clothes. The fruit, which looks like a velvety gourd, is filled with big black seeds surrounded by tart cream, with a slightly powdery pulp. For years, the African’s have eaten both the leaves and fruit which is also known as monkey bread. Now it’s being hailed by Westerners as a new “super-fruit”. It is said to have six times the Vitamin C levels of an orange as well as vitamin A, twice the amount of calcium of milk and be stuffed with anti-oxidants such as iron and potassium. It is said to be a good pro-biotic, good for digestion, brain and nerve function.

And the name “monkey bread”?  You must wonder. Seems like an unusual name for a tree. This tree’s fruits are large pods known as “monkey bread”. They are favourites of monkeys that frequent the trees.

The baobab is also an incredibly useful tree – so much so that Disney’s Lion King names it the Tree of Life. (characters Rafiki and Simba often hanging around the tree of life) It behaves like a giant succulent and up to 80% of the trunk is water. San nomads used to rely on the trees as a valuable source of water when the rains failed to arrive and the rivers dried up. A single tree can hold up to 4,500 litres (1,189 gallons).  Leafless most of the year, the barren branches of the baobab look like roots sticking up in the air. It looks exactly like a tree that is upside down!

Baobab at sunsetThe tree is full of legend and myth.  One legend says that when God made the world, he gave each animal a tree. Hyena got the baobab. Foolish hyena, instead of planning it the right way, they planted it upside down!!   The bark and flesh are soft, fibrous and fire-resistant and can be used to weave rope and cloth. It is also used to make soap, rubber, glue and various medicines.

Baobabs, which are found throughout  southern Africa can live up to thousands of years. People say when they die, they collapse into a heap of mush, hairy pulp that burns itself, or it turns into dust that gets blown away by the wind only to create a new baobab tree.

And no doubt the most important thing to note — most of the species are currently highly endangered and possibly headed towards extinction.

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