Africa

 

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Baobab Tree – Photo by Beverly Joubert, National Geographic 2008.

The baobab (Adansonia digitata) is prevalent throughout Africa, Australia, Madagascar and in parts of Arabia. It is a prehistoric deciduous species which predates both mankind and the splitting of the continents over 200 million years ago.

Native to the African savannah, it is a symbol of life in a landscape where little else can thrive. During the rainy season it absorbs and stores water in its enormous trunk, enabling it to produce nutritious fruit in the dry season. This single tree species is known as “The Tree of Life” in Africa.

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Baobab trees can live for up to 5,000 years. They provide shelter, food, medicine and water for animals and humans, which is why many savannah communities live them.

The baobab tree is also nicknamed the “upside-down tree,” because it looks like it has been planted on its head, with its roots sticking up into the air.

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Baobabs are very difficult to kill, they can be burnt, or stripped of their bark. They respond by forming new bark and continue growing. When they do die, they rot from the inside and suddenly collapse, leaving a heap of fibres, which makes many people think that they don’t die at all, but simply disappear. Elephants though, have been known to chop down and consume a whole tree.

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Elephants digging into the Baobab Tree with their tusks to gather water.

An old Baobab tree creates its own ecosystem, as it supports life for the largest mammals to thousands of tiny creatures. Birds nest in its branches; baboons devour the fruit; fruit bats drink the nectar and pollinate the flowers.

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Avenue of the Baobabs in Madagascar.

There is an African bush legend about the baobab tree that tells of the god Cagn, also known as Kaang, Kho and Thora, who disliked the giant baobab growing in his garden so much that he threw it over the wall of paradise. The enduring baobab landed upside down on earth and continued to grow.  In another myth, the gods get irritated by the vanity of the baobab, because the baobab shows off its branches and flowers while bragging to other creatures about its beauty, that they uprooted it and turned it upside down it to teach it a lesson in humility.

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Fruit from Baobab trees (sometimes called “monkey fruit” because baboons love to eat it) contains high concentrations of antioxidants, which protect the cells in people’s bodies from damage. Baobab fruit, which tastes like cream of tartar, is a nutritious fruit filled with vitamin C, calcium, vitamin A, potassium, magnesium, and iron.