Known as the upside-down tree because its branches look like roots, the baobab is a succulent, absorbing and storing water in the dry season in its vast trunk, enabling it to produce a juicy fruit in the dry season when all around is dry and arid. It is this water-holding property that attracts large mammals like elephant in the dry season, that tear at the bark to access the water inside. The baobab gives up its water but survives nevertheless, growing broader and wider to compensate. Perhaps this explains why it is sometimes known as the ‘Tree of Life’.
These bulbous woody giants can live to between two and three thousand years, though some are thought to be as old as four thousand. In fact, their growth rate has been estimated at only eight millimetres every ten years! They are notoriously difficult to age, however, as baobabs have soft pulp, not hard matter, so there are no rings as seen in most other trees. Too broad for even the most ardent tree-hugger to reach around, these trees can reach a height of 30 metres high and a spread of 50 metres in circumference so they can provide shelter, food and water for animals and humans, which is why many savannah communities have made their homes near baobab trees.
Not only this, but the baobab is also drought and fire resistant and can withstand termites, regrowing their bark if it is stripped. Native to the African savannah where the climate is extremely dry and arid, it is a symbol of life and positivity in a harsh landscape. Ancestral baobab trees are seen throughout Zinave National Park.
The baobab is an African icon and the stuff of myth and legend. Many believe when meetings of kings and elders were held under the vast tree branches that the tree’s spirits would guide the decision-making. Perhaps this is something to do with the longevity of the species, which has been around since prehistoric times.
As part of a new Peace Parks Foundation initiative, the baobab might well see another mammal in its branches – a human. Sleeping inside one of these ancient giants might appear in the future as a unique experience for the luxury traveller. Watch this space…!
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