My fascination with the baobab tree started on our first trip to sub-Saharan Africa in 2014. We saw them in Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe on that trip and I fell under their spell. They thrive in thirty two African nations, but we have never seen one as far north as Morocco or Egypt. You have to go further south to see them. At one time, there was a bar inside a baobab in South Africa. I don’t know if it is still open, but it sounds like an interesting place to have an adult beverage. We’d probably hang out there longer than we did at the ice bar in Norway. It was just way too chill. There is a baobab in Australia that was used as a prison. Not as much fun as a bar. Another has been used as a post office; it has stood even longer than the average wait in the queue at a post office, so it must be quite old.
Sadly, the only baobab many people will only see is the towering sculpture of a baobab in the Animal Kingdom Theme Park of Disney World. But I guess that’s better than never knowing about this incredible tree, which is the reason it was chosen among all trees in the world to serve as an impressive symbol. The sculpture symbolizes the interconnected nature of all the creatures of the earth with the natural environment. There is a theater in the base of that 145 foot baobab sculpture and you can see that 3-D film It’s a Bug’s Life! We’ve sat through several screenings of that little film. The baobab tree is so highly revered that it has starred in several movies: Avatar, Madagascar, and The Lion King come to mind. The baobab tree also had a prominent role in the well known book The Little Prince.
This tree is actually a succulent and can store up water in times of abundant rain for use during periods of drought. It is thought to live for up to 5000 years and every part of this tree has been used over the millennia. The Arab seafarers arrived in Madagascar and seeing the strange trees, assigned blame to the devil. They believed that the devil pulled them out of the ground and then planted them upside down, which is why the trees have that unique shape and size. The canopies look more like roots than treetops. Another nickname for the baobab is “roots of the sky.” The largest recorded girth of a baobab is just under 154 feet. That’s a whopping big tree. Baobabs reaching heights of 150 feet are not rare.
The fruit of the baobab dries on the trunk; it’s the only fruit that does this. It just hangs there and dries naturally instead of falling to the ground and rotting like other fruit does. The bark has been used to craft ropes and clothing. Natives have found medicinal uses for parts of the baobab. The tree provides shelter for a host of animals; the folds in the trunk are home to reptiles and insects. Birds nest in the branches and hollows. Many animals eat the fruit. Elephants are actually one of the enemies of the baobab because they munch on the bark to get the water from the tree.
When the opportunity to come to Madagascar presented itself, we jumped at the chance to see more of the trees that the natives call “mother of the forest.” There are more species of baobabs on that island than anywhere else in the world, although you can find them in Australia as well as mainland Africa. Six of the species are endemic to Madagascar, which is why I think of it as ground zero for baobabs. I was in baobab heaven and I can’t wait to share some pictures of these magnificent trees.