Is there perhaps a more imposing vista than a colossal and ancient baobab tree standing majestically amidst an African sunset?

A 2000 year old baobab is an impressive site, gnarled and eroded by elephants and time, standing guard over the bushveld’s secrets like sentinels of the savanna.

If a tree could write a book, the baobab’s would surely be a bestseller. Mysteriously enough however, baobabs are not actually trees, but rather overweight succulents. Their wood is soft and fibrous, and not as solid as you would perhaps associate with such a fine specimen. In times of drought, baobabs are even known to shrink and wither as a result of water loss, swelling again in wetter times. An adaption to stand the test of time in hardy African conditions. Their moist pulp is an elephant delicacy, their flowers provide large doses of nectar and their boughs provide nests for uncommon birds such as spinetails.

The giants are very slow growing, often barely noticeable. Some of the most famous baobabs (Baines’ Baobabs in Nxai Pan National Park in Botswana) were painted by the explorer Thomas Baines in the 1850s. And if you visit the grove of trees today, there is only minimal change to what Baines would have seen some 160 years ago.

In some parts they are referred to as an ‘upside down tree’ due to their swollen carrot-like branches resembling roots. The San Bushman have an ancient belief that the trees were hurled down to earth by angry gods, landing like massive darts. The fact that young trees, which have a completely different leaf structure and texture, do not look anything like a baobab, fertilizes the legend further. Because of this, the San believe, baobabs do not grow from the earth but arrive from the heavens as mature trees.

The baobab is, to say the least, a curious thing.


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