Savannah Giant – Baobab – Care

“God planted a baobab tree in the valley of a full-flowing river, but the capricious tree was dissatisfied with the dampness of those places. The Creator took the slopes of the mountains to the baobab for settlement, but even there the tree seemed uncomfortable. Then the heavenly lord in anger stuck the baobab roots up in the middle of the dry savannah. so the tree that has angered God grows upside down. “

This is how the African legend explains the unusual appearance of the baobab.

In the vast expanses of tall-grass African steppes – savannas, woody plants are occasionally found. Usually these are sausage trees, umbrella-shaped with openwork acacia crowns and the famous baobab tree, lonely rising among the grass stand, pollinated by birds.

Баобабы. Farmer Ralph Kranzlein

Stocky, with an unusually thick trunk (sometimes 45 meters in circumference) and with a wide but low crown, the baobab is one of the most revered trees in Equatorial Africa. The opinion that the tallest tree in the world is the eucalyptus is firmly established, followed by the metasequoia, and the baobab has always been given a more modest place. And suddenly, quite recently, a giant baobab was first discovered in Africa, which has no equal among other trees of this genus. Its mighty crown, which is usually spread at a relatively low height, and the diameter of the trunk at the base up to 189 meters, soared up at 44 meters.

With the onset of a dry, almost six-month period, African giants, unlike most local trees, shed their leaves and so stand until the start of the rainy season. When the rainy season comes, they bloom simultaneously with the appearance of leaves, forming huge (up to 20 centimeters in diameter) single flowers. Each flower, with five fleshy petals and numerous purple stamens, hangs from a long pedicel. The baobab blooms for several months, all the time it rains, but each flower only lives one night. In the evening, a fresh, resilient bud reveals delicate, silky petals, and with the first rays of the sun they lose their shine and fade.

For a long time it was not known how the pollination of baobab flowers occurs under cover of night. It turned out that bats were involved. With the onset of darkness, they circle in a multitude around the dark crown, looking for flowers. Extracting nectar and pollen that are tasty for them, bats simultaneously pollinate baobab flowers.

The baobab fades when foliage is all over it. Its leaves are palmate, consisting of five leaves 18 centimeters long and 5 centimeters wide.

Baobab fruit
Baobab fruits. Farmer Lip Kee Yap

Although baobab is famous as a universal plant, all parts of which are beneficial to humans, the most valuable are its fruits, the so-called monkey bread. Large (35 centimeters long and up to 17 centimeters wide) baobab fruits, similar to huge cucumbers, hang from the trees on long thin stalks. From above, young fruits are densely covered with curly down, through which a black shiny peel is visible; by the time the fruits ripen, the fluff disappears.

In the crowns of giant trees, hordes of monkeys live, feeding on their fruits, which is why the locals call the baobab the monkey breadfruit.

The pulp of the fruit is reddish, mealy, tasty, sour, refreshing. It is readily consumed by the local population as well. The fruits and seeds of the baobab are used by the natives as a medicine for dysentery and eye diseases, the juice from the fruit is used to prepare an excellent thirst-quenching drink, which is considered a remedy for putrefactive fever. The natives make dishes from the shells of the fruits.

Baobab seeds contain a lot of oil, they are eaten toasted, the extract from the seeds is the best antidote for strophanth poisoning.

The bark of the baobab is very peculiar: the upper layer is elastic, like a sponge, and the inner one is entirely composed of strong fibers. The fibers are used to make coarse fabrics, ropes and even strings for local musical instruments. The Senegalese proverb says about the strength of the fibers: “helpless as an elephant tied with a baobab rope.” The very soft baobab wood is always moist and retains a supply of water for the entire dry period. The thick, spongy bark prevents excess moisture from evaporating, and leaves fall off in the heat. Despite the low mechanical qualities of baobab wood, blacks are widely used for the manufacture of boats and various dishes.

Flower baobaba
Baobab flower. Farmer Lip Kee Yap

Baobab leaves are widely used. They are eaten fresh, and dried and crushed, they are considered the best seasoning for the national dish couscous. Baobab leaves are considered a good anti-malarial agent and are also used to make sourdough.

Considering such a useful tree sacred, the inhabitants of the savannah strictly adhere to the custom – everyone should sow baobab seeds near their home.

The baobab is mercilessly exploited by many savannah wildlife, especially elephants. It is not for nothing that baobabs are called elephant eateries here. A usual picture for savannahs – elephants, crowding around a tree, break off its branches, break trunks, rip off the bark and eat everything without a trace. At the same time, the elephants give their young the juiciest pieces of heartwood. The addiction of elephants to baobabs was discovered recently and has not yet been explained. Bats also harm baobab leaves. It is rare to find a baobab tree in full green plumage: a large part of its leaves are always damaged, eaten.

In addition to Equatorial Africa, baobab grows in Madagascar, India and the savannas of Australia. In these parts, it is represented by 16 species that botanists classify as the Bombax family, by the way, very close to the Malvaceae family. This means that the giant of the savannah is related to our modest beauties, mallow.

Baobab. Farmer Sakke Wiik

The baobab is one of the most veteran veterans of the plant kingdom. Alexander Humboldt also called this tree the oldest organic monument on our planet, and the famous African plant researcher Michael Adanson in 1794 described a baobab with a diameter of 9 meters at the age of 5150 years in Senegal. By the way, in honor of this botanist, Karl Linnaeus gave the baobab the scientific name adansonia that has survived to this day.

The baobab is given many nicknames due to the excessive thickness of its trunk. Meanwhile, observations have shown that fluctuations in the circumference of the trunk are caused by meteorological conditions. Forester G. Guy at the National Museum in Bulawayo (Southern Rhodesia) for 35 years (1931-1966) measured the circumference of the trunk of the same baobab, and although it turned out to be different every year, it never exceeded the original circumference. This is due to the fact that the first year was the wettest, and the subsequent ones were the driest.

Baobab trees have another amazing property: they are able to accumulate the element of the century – uranium.

Баобаб. Farmer Maurizio Pesce

The baobab is often surprisingly viable in harsh environments. With an almost constant lack of water, it develops roots hundreds of meters to the side. The bark damaged by humans or elephants quickly regenerates. Not afraid of baobab and steppe fires. Even when the raging fire manages to penetrate the trunk and burn out its entire core, the tree continues to grow. In such baobab trees, it is especially difficult to establish the age, even by radioactive methods. However, this is not easy to do with intact plants, since baobab wood does not have the usual growth rings for our trees.

The soft wood of the baobab is often damaged by the fungus, which also contributes to the formation of huge hollows in its trunks. But in such cases the tree does not cease to serve man, albeit in a somewhat unusual way. It is enough to make a hole in the upper part of such a tree (it often forms naturally), and the thick, usually empty trunk is gradually filled with rainwater and abundant moisture. The dense tent of the baobab crown reliably protects such a reservoir-well from evaporation, collecting water with leaves and branches and replenishing it in the well. Locals value such living reservoirs, saving their contents for a rainy day.

Dwellings are often built under the crowns of baobabs. Sometimes in the trunks of giant trees, mausoleums are arranged, in which the remains of tribal leaders and prominent military leaders are buried. A huge hollow of a baobab tree (6X6 meters) growing in one of the cities of northwestern Australia (there are baobabs there, albeit a different species), the local authorities ordered in the spirit of colonial times, equipping a city prison there. D. Fenshaw, a forester from Northern Rhodesia, reports that in Katima, in the hollow of a baobab tree, a latrine with a toilet bowl and a flush cistern was arranged.

Bonsai from baobab
Baobab bonsai. Farmer Damien du Toit

Baobab giants who do not know old age live up to 6000 years, and during this time many generations of people are replaced.

S.I.Ivchenko – Book about trees


Anna Evans

Author ✓ Farmer

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