baobab tree, africa tree of life

Anyone who has spent time in Africa is familiar with the striking silhouette of the Baobab tree. It is easily recognisable by its enormous trunk and strangely thin stems, looking like it has been planted upside down with its root-like appearance.

They can live up to 5000 years old, reach a height of 30m and a massive circumference of 50m.

baobab tree africa

There are 9 types of Baobabs, 8 of which grow in 32 countries in Africa alone. The other one grows in Australia. Clearly its a tree that thrives in hot, dry locations with low rainfall.

In Tanzania we have the Adansonia digitata.  Adansonia comes from an Arabic word ‘bu hibab’ meaning fruit with many seeds.

Tarangire National Park is one of the best places to see a vast number of Baobabs in all shapes and sizes.

baobab trees at sunset

These ‘super’ trees are basically succulents, meaning that during the rainy season they absorb and store water, resulting in nutrient dense fruit in the dry season.

Baobabs can store as much as 4500 litres of water to endure drought periods. The water functions to keep them upright and helps flush new leaves at the beginning of the growth season.

close up to baobab tree

They flower at about 20 years of age, bearing large heavy white flowers with an exotic appearance. These flowers open in the late afternoon and stay open for only one night! During this time they emit a strong smelly odour, which attracts bats and various insects.

One of my favourite parts of the tree is its beautiful fruit pods: grey and hairy, shaped like a small rugby ball with the seeds located within.

green baobab tree

Baobab fruit is the only fruit in the world that dries naturally on the branches; they will not drop off. They stay hanging on, baking away up there for up to 6 months.

Once dried, these can then be harvested, de-seeded and sieved to create a fine powder used in cooking or as a health supplement.

Unlike other health supplements, this powder does not need any additional work – no spraying or freeze drying; it’s just pure 100% fruit powder. It also has a natural shelf life of 3 years, which means no preservatives or additives are required.

A truly exceptional superfruit!

baobab trees in a row

Why is it Called the Tree of Life?

Baobabs are a symbol of life and positivity within the harsh environments in which they grow. They provide life sustaining shelter, clothing, food and water for people and animals. Every part of the baobab can be used.

Bark – fire resistant and used to make cloth & rope. The fibrous pulp can also be used for paper, grain sacks and even fishing line.

Leaves – can be cooked and eaten like spinach.

Sap – used as glue, rubber and soap.

Fruit – Rich in Vitamin C, even more so than oranges.

Oil from the seeds – can be used as a moisturiser. 

Traditional medicine appreciates the tree for its healing effects. Therefore, it is also known as the “pharmacist tree”.

Although massive, they are not without risk of damage. Because they know that baobabs store water, in the dry season when water is scarce, Elephants will seek out Baobabs.

The bark is soft enough for them to poke holes into, pulling it back to gain access to the water.

a line of baobabs

A few years ago I revisited an island off the Tanzania mainland, called Chole Island. There are beautiful Baobabs on this small island and the residents, along with a couple, had built an incredible rustic hideaway amongst the Baobab trees.

This was my second visit and I included some swimming with whale sharks this time (the owner runs a research project from the bigger island, Mafia).

If you are wanting to get right up into a Baobab, with spectacular views, pristine environment, beautiful dives, clear waters, then this is the space to be in a tree house. It’s like sleeping in the arms of a Baobab – a very special little place – Chole Mjini.

chole mjini treehouse
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