“I DO not believe the like was ever seen in any part of the world.” What was it that the Frenchman Michel Adanson saw when visiting Senegal?
It was a tree! About 65 feet [20 m] high, with an enormously wide trunk, 25 feet [8 m] in diameter. The tree is generally referred to the tree as a “carrot planted upside down.”
Legend has it that “the devil plucked up [the tree], thrust its branches into the earth, and left its roots in the air.” Thus, many know the tree as “the upside-down tree.”
In Latin it is called Adansonia digitata, named after its discoverer, but most of us call it the baobab, one of the best-known trees in eastern Africa, although taller cousins can be found in Madagascar and some even in Australia.
The Upside-Down Baobab Tree
The baobab appears here and there in the drier parts of tropical Africa. It is native to the savanna, along the coast, and even on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. “It does not resemble any other tree I have ever seen,” adds one of our associates. Grayish and enormous, the baobab is a plant with bark two to four inches [5-10 cm] thick.
“It really looks like a tree planted upside down!” Most of the year, during the six to seven months of the dry season, the tree has no leaves whatsoever.
How does the baobab tree survive?
During the short rainy season, the spongy fibers of the tree suck up a large quantity of water, which is stored in the trunk for the dry season.” The publication Baobab—Adansonia Digitata notes: “The top of the trunk is usually hollowed, rainwater and dew collect here and may be the only water available for miles around. . . . The trunk has a high water content.
It is estimated that a tree of about 200 cubic metres [7,000 cubic feet] will contain up to 140,000 liters [37,000 gallons] of water. . . . Manageable blocks of the trunk can also be cut out and water squeezed out for drinking.”
It is a huge tree, but the heart is soft. The community calls it the “Tree of Life”.
The Baobab Tree of Life
To many natives the tree is a gift from God. Why? “First of all it can live very long. Perhaps one thousand years or even longer,” continues a villager. “It serves us with food, water, clothes, roofing material, glue, medicine, shelter, necklaces, and even sweets for the children.”
What about firewood? “No, the bark is too moist from the water stored in it. We usually look for other trees for that purpose.” Says young Daniel: “But we use the bark for making our strings and ropes.”
Far more than that, it is used for nets, mats, cloth, hats, canoes, trays, boxes, baskets, and paper. Ash from the bark can be used as fertilizer, and many make soap out of it. “The young shoots and leaves are eaten,” adds one of the young mothers, carrying a baby on her back. “We also roast the seeds and use them for coffee. Seed pulp is used in making beer, and oil can be extracted too.”
During the short rainy season, the tree puts forth beautiful white flowers. But they do not smell as good as they look! They begin to open from the late afternoon to soon after sunset and are fully open by the following morning. During the night, the fruit bats are thus invited to pollinate.
The natives mix the flower pollen with water and use it as glue. The long (16 inches [40 cm]) fruit hang down on stalks. We touch the greenish fruit, and it feels like velvet. It looks like a monkey’s tail. “Aha, that is why the tree is also called the monkey-bread tree!”
The Baobab Tree Benefits
The fruit has a white, tart pulp around the seeds, very rich in vitamin C, vitamin B1, and calcium. In baking, the pulp can be used as a substitute for cream of tartar. That is also the reason why some call it the cream-of-tartar tree. Shem says: “We sometimes make drinks from the pulp. It tastes like lemon.” That is why other people call it the lemon tree.
When our cattle are troubled by insects, we simply burn the fruit pulp, and the smoke serves as a repellent. Sometimes we mix the pulp flour with milk and get an excellent yogurt.
Medicinal Benefits Of Baobab Tree
We can use the tree for everything. Because of its many uses, no wonder that many local people respect the tree, fear it, yes, even worship it. We find out that nursing mothers mix the powdery pulp with milk and give it to their babies in order to prevent the small ones from getting distended bellies, dysentery, and fever.
“Medicine” from the tree is sold in local markets and is said to cure inflammations, toothaches, and other ailments. Locally it is used to treat anemia, diarrhea, influenza, asthma, kidney problems, respiratory problems, and even tumors. What a huge Africa’s “tree of life”!