The Baobab Tree
The Baobab Tree, with its upside-down look, is central to many African legends and superstitions and is revered. It is fabled that the Gods took the tree out of the ground and planted it upside down with the roots in the air.
The rotund, glossy trunk sprouts a crown of thick branches which look more like roots since they are bare of leaves for most of the dry season. Found in many parts of Eastern/Southern Africa, baobab trees have an enormous thick trunk, between 5-7 metres (15-20 feet) and can grow up to a height of 25 metres. They are found at low altitudes in hot, dry bushveld and can live for many centuries according to some experts, some baobab trees have had a life span of 3000 years!
Although they look sturdy, the baobab has little real substance. Their stout trunks conceal a relatively soft, pithy interior composed of thin-walled cells for water storage. Baobabs have been shown to expand in girth after good rains and to contract during droughts.
The baobabs large white flowers last no more than twenty-four hours and are thought to be pollinated by bats. Among many local legends, associated with the tree, there is a belief that picking the flowers will bring bad luck.
However, the baobab itself has brought good luck to many early bush pioneers. Its bark can be formed into a very durable string and its pith can, if chewed, provide at least some moisture for the thirsty, as can water retaining crevices and hollows in its trunk. The leaves and fruit pulp are used medicinally and the seeds and leaves are edible. The seed pods look like a castanet and the seeds are in a powdery pulp inside. The seeds are filled with a pith that is rich in tartaric acid and can be sucked or soaked in water to provide a refreshing drink. Seeds can also be ground to flavour soups, or roasted and used as a coffee substitute.
Unfortunately, elephants are also aware of the benefits that baobabs can provide, and many fine specimens have been destroyed.