Thursday, April 10, 2014

The baobab is one of the Africa’s oldest living icons and quite possibly one of the oldest trees on the planet. It’s the subject of numerous myths and legends. The upside down reference is a direct nod to its appearance and also popularly told folk stories.

By all accounts the baobab tree has an unusual appearance. There’s nothing particularly graceful about its bulbous trunk and gnarled, root-resembling branches. The latter are without foliage for nine months of a year. However, there’s no denying its importance as a source of sustenance and wellbeing and as a symbol of community.

How the baobab came to be the wrong way around

Oral storytelling is ingrained in African culture. One such story claims that the baobab was one of the first living things on land. It appeared, even before the slender, tall palm tree. When the baobab first spotted the palm tree it instantly begged to be taller.

Then it saw the flame tree with its passion red flowers and the baobab was desperate for blossoms of its own. By the time the fig tree arrived, the baobab fervently prayed for its own tasty fruit too. By this time, the gods had had enough of the baobab’s whinging so, to keep it quiet, they pulled it out by the roots, turned it around and replanted it.

Tallest living baobab resides in South Africa

The baobab tree grows wild on the savannahs of the African continent in more than 30 countries. The godfather of baobabs, the largest ever recorded lived in Limpopo province in South Africa until, sadly, it split in two.

Currently, the Sunland baobab, also in Limpopo Province, at a height of 22 metres and a matronly girth of 47 metres, is thought to be the largest. Carbon dating suggests it is approximately 6000 years old. If this is true, it very well could be the oldest living tree in the world.

Baobab’s gourd like monkey fruit

The baobab’s fruit, called “monkey fruit” probably owing to its popularity with baboons, is generous in its uses. While the term superfruit has become a bit of a fad, in the case of the baobab it certainly applies. Baobab fruit is loaded with essential goodness for a variety of applications from ingesting as food to applying to the skin. It’s delicious in smoothies, sauces, jams, baking and a host of other applications. What’s more, unlike some other not so tasty superfruits, the sweet/tart flavour doesn’t need to be masked. Its fruit also forms the core ingredient of many traditional African remedies.

“The tree of life”

In addition to it’s medicinal and health benefits, these ancient living trees are also an important symbol and life source for many African people. What is particularly remarkable is the way the baobab has evolved. Found close to the equator, it spreads its roots wide to obtain as much three-months-a-year rainwater as possible. It’s bulbous trunk stores water in the dry season. This means that anything or anyone loping through the desert in times of drought can obtain water from the baobab’s pulp.

Flowers are large, white and bell shaped. To see a baobab in full flower you’ll need to view them at starlight; they flower at night only. There’s something incredibly mysterious, quiet, humble and quite beautiful about a baobab at night.

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