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Baobab: Tree That Roars


Leydsdorp Baobab, Südafrika

Regarded as the largest succulent plant in the world, the baobab tree is steeped in a wealth of mystique, legend and superstition wherever it occurs in Africa. It is a tree that can provide food, water, shelter and relief from sickness. Often referred to as “grotesque” by some authors, the main stem of larger baobab trees may reach enormous proportions of up to 28m in girth.

South Africa’s famous baobab pub is unfortunately out of commission after collapsing in 2017, but still open to the public. The tree was 46 meters in circumference and had a wine cellar and draught beer on tap. The record for the number of people in the bar was 56.

Although baobab trees seldom exceed a height of 25 meters, the massive, usually squat cylindrical trunk gives rise to thick tapering branches resembling a root-system, which is why it has often been referred to as the upside-down tree. There is a tale which tells of how God planted them upside-down.  Many traditional Africans believe that the baobab actually grows upside-down. The stem is covered with a bark layer, which may be 50-100 millimeter thick.  The bark is greyish brown and normally smooth but can often be variously folded and seamed from years of growth.

The leaves are hand-sized and divided into 5-7 finger-like leaflets.  Being deciduous, the leaves are dropped during the winter months and appear again in late spring or early summer.

It’s twice as big as any other of kind in the region and looks as if someone took six massive trees and welded them together to form a super baobab.  Like great bodies of water, the tree has calming presence.  One of its branches reaches down to the orange earth, like a divine hand granting access to its elevated world, from where people have clambered up if for generation. In the Venda area, where the tree is prevalent, the locals call it Muri Kunguluwa, – the trees that roars.

More than the lion, elephant or fish eagle, more than the Serengeti, Nile or Kilimanjaro, the baobab best represents Africa. It’s ancient, resilient, revered and adaptable. It thrives where other plants wither and die. These icons of the Africa savannah hold a power over our imagination. Reaching such unimaginable ages, they‘re steeped in mystique, surrounded by superstition and seen as a way to communicate with the ancestors.  In West Africa, prominent trees even receive special funerals. The more you lean about the baobabs the more fascinating they become.

Glencoe baobab

Some 1853 years old and lying its back. This tree continues to sprout shoots from its branches. There’s a beautiful 500 years old baobab nearby the most visitors assumes to be the tree.

Leysdrop baobab

Half way between Tzaneen and Hoedspruit, the Leysdrop baobab is named after a former gold-rush town. Swaine Swanepole will give you a tour around and sell you a coldrink if you are thirsty, entrance fee was R10

King of Garatjeke

This was the trickiest baobab to find. We followed google maps to Garatseke primary school, on a bumpy dirt road and found this massive tree in the center of the village.

 

Sunland baobab

South Africa’s famous baobab pub is unfortunately out of commission after collapsing in 2017, but still open to the public. The tree was 46 meters in circumference and had a wine cellar and draught beer on tap. The record for the number of people in the bar was 56.

  Sagole baobab

Managed by the local community, the world’s biggest baobab lies near the Venda town of Zwigodini. Entrance is R30 and its open from 8am to see the mottled spine tails return to the tree its costs R300.

 Swatater Baobab

The last of the champion trees we visited, this beautiful specimen is on a cattle farm just outise the small town of Swatwater. The roads in this region are terrible so drive carefully. The tree stands 500 metres off a side road behind a cattle gate.