One of the trees we came across on our travels in Zimbabwe, is the Baobab tree (Adansonia digitata), also known as the cream of tarter tree, which is a very unusual looking tree. These trees are normally found at altitudes below 600m, in hot dry regions. Once the tree loses its leaves, about the beginning of winter, the baobab looks like an upside down tree, with its roots in the air.
Some legends say that God planted the tree upside down – it was first planted in the Congo Basin, where it complained of the wet, so God removed it to another area, where it complained of the cold. Annoyed by the tree’s discontent, God took it up and threw it into the hot dry regions of Africa, where it landed upside down and has stayed like that ever since.
In March this year, the baobabs still had leaves, so though not as ugly, they still look very impressive with their knobbly bark and wide girth, sometimes looking like an old goblin. It is not surprising that there are so many myths and legends surrounding these trees, as they are unlike most other trees, and have been around for such a long time, with stories being passed on from one generation to the next.
The wood is very fibrous, and the trees store a great deal of water, which also means that these trees can live for thousands of years. They have great ‘stamina’ and if the bark is stripped it simply grows again. The bark is used to make fibre mats and baskets, and the bark so removed does not cause any permanent damage to the tree.
Baobab trees can often be found with hollow trunks, and an opening at the side, sometimes the size of a door, and local people use the inside of the tree to store grain from wild animals, or even as shelter in a storm, and bats love to live inside, (which doesn’t make for a very pleasant visit, with the stench of ammonia!) The trees store so much water in the bark that they can help the villagers get water in the dry season, the leaves are rich in vitamin C, and a good substitute for spinach, and can also make good feed for animals, and the fruit and seeds are a good substitute for cream of tartar.
If you visit Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe (one of the 7 natural wonders of the world). then you should definitely visit the famous Big Tree, a few kilometres from the Falls. This tree is about 2000 years old, and its diameter is more than 7 metres. Over the years, many visitors have carved their initials in the tree, (we noticed one dated 1923), and for this reason, and to protect the tree, a fence is now in place – you can look but don’t touch…or carve!
We also came across some wonderful specimens in the Mana Pools National Park – the one above looks like a slightly ‘younger’ tree, maybe 1000 years old!
Finally, the fruit of the baobab, when cracked open, it contains little pods of cream of tartar, the tree is sometimes known as the ‘dead rat tree’, because of the appearance of the fruit….yuk!!