Saturday, September 29, 2007

BAOBAB - oldest living thing

Baobab, the oldest and strangest living relics of ancient times, could be found in the remote deserts of Australia, Africa or Madagascar. Baobab trees tower over the landscape like great living monuments.
It can grow to enormous sizes. One ancient hollow Baobab tree in Zimbabwe is so large that up to 40 people can shelter inside its trunk.
The colossal form of these trees is matched by their usefulness, for they provide shade, shelter, water and food for a wide variety of creatures.With their massive trunks, crooked branches and furry fruit, it’s no wonder baobabs are described as bizzare.

The secret of the baobab's success in surviving in harsh environments and the reason for its massive trunk is that it has little wood fibre but a large water storage capacity. Each tree can hold up to 300 litres of water, enabling it to live through long periods without rain.Baobabs may be the oldest life forms on the African continent, and many of the specimens still standing today have certainly been around since the birth of Christ; others for far longer. Their life-cycle is as impressive as their bulk - most live over 500 years and some specimens in Africa are believed to be up to 5000 years old.

They have no branches on the lower part of their smooth, silvery trunks, making them difficult to climb. Instead a spray of twisted boughs sprouts from the top of the trunk, which gave rise to the colloquial term of the "upside-down tree".

Dr.David Livingstone called it a 'giant carrot planted upside down'.

Various Baobabs have been used as a shop, a prison, a house, a storage barn and a bus shelter.

Or a toilet.

Along the Zambezi, the tribes believe that when the world was young the Baobabs were upright and proud. However for some unknown reason, they lorded over the lesser growths.The gods became angry and uprooted the Baobabs , thrusting them back into the ground, root upwards.

A little further up the coast, two baobabs nicknamed 'the lovers' are entwined around each other in an embrace that has lasted over 600 years.

Although the baobas are solitary beings, the most popular place for baobab spotters is 'Baobab Alley', twenty bumpy kilometres north of Morondava.

Baobab trees flower for the first time at about 20 years.

The Baobab tree has large whitish flowers which open at night. In mid-summer, dozens of luminous white blossoms - the size of saucers - open at sunset and their strong musky odour attracts fruit bats and hosts of insects.

If you find yourself near baobab flower and wish to pick it up – don’t! The legend says that evil spirits now haunt the sweet white flowers and anyone who picks one will be killed by a lion.

The life of the flower is short lived and it drops to the ground within hours of being serviced. The resultant seeds are housed in a hairy pod which resembles a miniature rugby ball (inside of which is a white pulp from which 'cream of tartar' is derived). Once they fall to the ground, the pods are fed upon by baboons, monkeys, antelope and elephants, which serve to disperse the hard seeds within.

The baobab fruit looks like a leftover Christmas decoration.

A Baby Baobab tree looks very different from its adult form and this is why the Bushmen believe that it doesn't grow like other trees, but suddenly crashes to the ground with a thump, fully grown, and then one day simply disappears. No wonder they are thought of as magic trees.