Succulent folds of grey
Succulent folds of grey
What’s grey, voluptuous, bulges out of its crinkly skin and begs to be embraced? Enter stage right Adansonia digitata - the striking and magnificent baobab tree. The elephant of the plant kingdom, their bold silhouettes are abundant in Tete.
The baobab has many legends and yarns woven around it, my favourite being that of the San people. The great god Glaoan climbed a baobab to pluck a fruit. Teasing him, the tree lifted its branches higher and higher, keeping the fruit out of reach. In a fury, Glaoan created a tempest, ripping the tree from the earth and flinging it skywards. It landed upside down, roots exposed, remaining so forever.
Given their size (reaching up to 30m high with trunks 11m in diameter) baobabs have been put to unusual uses over the centuries. Large specimens have been turned into pubs and prisons or used as hiding places for entire families in times of war and unrest. Succulent and rounded, the wood doesn’t have annual growth rings so age verification is by radiocarbon dating.
I have seen the trees in full leaf and dressed in winter bareness, but have yet to see the flowers, which are white and pollinated at night by bats. Apparently, inside the hard coconut-like shell of the velvety green fruit are seeds coated in a tangy tasting powder, the powder being used in food and drinks. I have to take someone else’s word for that, as I can’t open the fruit I picked up - it has firmly withstood assault from assorted weapons including a huge survival knife, a vice and a hacksaw. Clearly, they open when they are ready to. And despite the deepening winter dryness in Tete, baobabs here are coming into leaf, masters of their own hydration.
The tree is fascinating and each specimen intrigues. Like the one down the road, wide trunk split open to reveal the large termite hill growing inside it! Or the blasted tree we saw in Malawi, clearly the victim of a lightning strike, resembling a Welwitschia, or a discarded banana peel.
These silent colossuses, which, even covered in the diabolical Tete dust, command attention and awe, reassure that Africa endures. The trees will remain long after the mines are emptied, a statuesque reminder that do as we might, nature will keep calm and carry on unperturbed.
Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 13, June 2013)
Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Cahora Bassa & Tete
Read more about baobabs:
The Big Tree (ZT, Issue 13, June 2013)
Succulent folds of grey (ZT, Issue 13, June 2013)
The baobab’s secret (ZT, Issue 13, June 2013)
In love with baobabs (ZT, Issue 09, Sept 2012)