the tree of life

Numerous legends explain the baobab’s extraordinary shape.

From an ancient african legend….

….The baobab was at the beginning of the world , very vain and strutting about with its superb beauty. God, tired of hearing it , punished him by turning him upside down, and that is why his twisted hair resembles the roots of a tree.

I sit in my special place in Africa, watching the mesmerising power of a blood red sunset while a gentle breeze cools me. In the distance the silhouette of a special baobab tree, amazing in its shape, old and wise like an elephant. It stands there guarding the impeding night.

The baobab is a tree that has to be celebrated . It is unique and charismatic , one of the most iconic trees in the African landscape. It is called “the tree of life” and it’s one of my favourites. Their unusual barrel-like trunks are huge and indistinguishable in the African landscape, their strange growth  form represent one of the most impressive adaptations to a semi arid environment. The growth  rate depends by environmental conditions , the ones receiving more rain grow faster and larger than the others, so they can grow to an enormous  size, but the largest trees may not to be the oldest. The wood that is composed of concentric sheets of fibre, once dead, decomposes rapidly.

Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) named the genus Adansonia in honour of the French botanist Michel Adanson. The common name baobab derives from the arabic “bu hibab” meaning “many seeds fruit”. There are 8 species in the genus Adansonia , 6 are found in Madagascar, 1 in Australia, and one, the most widespread, in the African Continent. This last one is the Adansonia digitata, whose beautiful pendulous white flowers are mainly pollinated by fruit bats and bush babies. The seeds of  Adansonia digitata are dispersed by animals, as baboons and elephants, that consume the seeds whole, then they pass through its digestive tract unharmed and then are expelled in the animals’s faeces even far away from the parent tree.

What makes baobab trees even more special is that they are linked with elephants that very often shape the life of the trees and vice versa. Especially during the dry season when food is scarce, elephants extract sustenance from them. They rip off the bark and dig into the soft wood which is very moist and contains various minerals and vitamins. It has also been found that the bark of the baobab has some antibiotic properties, another reason why the bark is so much in demand (giraffes also gnaw the bark). The tree has the ability to survive, in some way the baobab has learned how to heal itself.

For human uses every part of the baobab is valuable. The bark can be used to make ropes, the seeds can be used to make  cosmetic oils or can be toasted to make a coffee substitute. The leaves, rich in iron, can be boiled and eaten like spinach. The fruit of the baobab dries naturally on its branch and it is possible to produce a delicious 100% pure fruit powder in its natural form that can then be used in so many recipes. The fruit pulp has six times more vitamin C than oranges. Juice made with baobab  fruit pulp is refreshing  and rich even in calcium.

Large baobab trees may become hollow, becoming an excellent place to hide or to live. Very often the pinkish grey bark is covered with bumps of all shapes and sizes that are formed from old scars that tell the story of the life of the tree.

…..It’s printed in my soul, a baobab tree in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania. Every time I go there I need to see and touch this tree, full of pockmarks dotted all over the surface, that were from honey hunters. In order to reach high hives, short stakes were driven into the bark and used like a ladder to climb up the hive (that are always there nowadays). Honey hunters utilise the tree from generation to generation. I think it knows so many bush stories …

In the meantime the beauty of the last hours of the day, the sun is setting, and the moon starts to become visible turning branches into arms and the trunk of the elephant.

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