Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Baobab Tree

Baobab Tree, Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

As we drove through the Tarangire National Park, we were spellbound by this amazing tree, the Baobab tree, also called the upside-down tree and sometimes, as you will see, the elephant tree.

These big trees dominated the landscape wherever they appeared, stretching sometimes as high as 80 feet. We learned they can live thousands of years. Just the diameter (that's across the tree, not around) can be as large as 50 feet.

This massive tree, crowned with green during the rainy season, is dubbed the "upside down tree" for during the dry season, its limbs look like giant roots. One folk tale tells that during the days of creation, the baobab tree begged to be the prettiest, largest, most fruitful tree of all the other trees. Annoyed, God threw the tree down from heaven and it landed upside down. Some believe that the "roots" of the tree link it still to the heavens and that the tree has special powers.

We came upon an elephant eating the heart of a baobab tree, for its soft wood tastes like sugar cane. This elephant paid us no attention but kept tearing and pulling the bark away, grunting softly. I was surprised to see the landscape is littered with downed trees, for elephants pull great limbs down to eat their leaves, leaving a path of destruction as they pass through the grasslands. Here is the video I took of that elephant in Tarangire.

Note: The comments you hear are of our guides talking to each other. "Sowa, sowa?" means "Are you ready to go?" in Swahili.

A Maasai told us that if you touch the Baobab tree (also called an elephant tree), you can make a wish. Once you touch the tree, one day you will return to Tanzania. We did not touch the Baobab.

NOTE: Children might enjoy The Tree of Life: The World of the African Baobab by Barbara Bash (excellent watercolor illustrations), while you can read more in the online book The Baobabs (540 pages) by Gerald E. Wickens and Pat Lowe.

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