Baobab myth?

I am sure that we all agree that baobabs (Adansonia digitata) are special trees. To see these true behemoths of the vegetal world in the African bush is always visually attractive and these trees have an important contribution to human as well as animal food security.

A large number of “famous” baobabs are scattered throughout Africa and Walker (2013)[1] has done a great job documenting forty special baobabs in Southern Africa while writing about his life devoted to conservation.

I have always regarded them as primeval trees that would take hundreds if not thousands of years to reach their monumental sizes. That is why what I saw after crossing the border from Botswana into South Africa shook the foundations of my baobab world…

This year we decided to do our annual trip to South Africa through Botswana for two main reasons: to avoid the normally chaotic border post at Beitbridge and to see more of Botswana. After spending the night in Palapye we crossed the border at Martin’s Drift and, after the event, we congratulated ourselves for the choice as, dealing with the border, only took a few minutes!

Still enjoying the “high” that an easy border crossing gives you we came across a farmstead with an access road lined by trees! Well, you would be thinking that the border crossing really affected my mind as most farms have such an entrance! Not so. The trees were fully grown baobabs! In addition, the land surrounding the farmhouse was also littered with the giants!

 

The trees I saw were not baby baobabs, not even teenagers! They belonged to my “adult baobab” category that includes trees that are hundreds or even thousands years old. Did early settlers plant the trees? Considering that the first Europeans arrived in the Limpopo Province (then the Transvaal) in 1836 via the Great Trek this could be possible. However, I believe that the trekkers had other more pressing activities than planting baobabs! This is confirmed by the finding of the first gold fields in the Transvaal fifty years later.

It was also unlikely that the trees, like the famous Morondava’s Avenue of the Baobabs in Madagascar were the remnants of a far greater baobab forest which existed in the past and not planted on purpose to grow as an avenue.

So, the mystery of the Limpopo baobab avenue remained in my mind throughout the journey through South Africa. It was only when back in Harare that I found time to Google the name of the farm and learnt that it is a hunting company[2]. Keen on finding out the origin of the trees I sent them an e-mail but I did not get a reply. I continued searching.

While looking up the issue, I remembered that a good Italian friend had bought really ancient olive trees that were moved from Southern Italy to his farm near Rome where they were planted! Apparently a trench is dug around the tree to uproot it, one side every year, then it gets pruned and, in about 4 years, it is ready to be “transplanted”. Could something like that be done with baobabs? The answer is yes!

There are 380 transplanted baobabs at the Lost City forest at Sun City, the heaviest weighed 75 tons at the time of the move! De Beers Venetia mine has relocated 110 baobabs to avoid them being damaged by its mining activities and, more recently, a large baobab in Musina, South Africa was moved from the new Musina Mall parking area and placed in a roundabout a few hundred metres away[3].

So, in the absence of a response from Choronga Safaris we can only say that there is a farm in the Limpopo Province of South Africa with an amazing baobab-lined entrance that, regardless of their origin is amazing but that we suspect that the trees were placed there rather recently.

I nearly fainted when, after this baobab revelation, I went out to have a look at the one I planted two years ago in a strategic place of the garden. There it was, about 60cm tall and starting to sprout. Although healthy, its growth is almost imperceptible and it still looks like a bonsai!

Seeing my pathetic project, I was tempted by a transplantation and a few baobab candidates I know came to mind! However, I abandoned the idea as it felt like cheating! I have planted the baobab for future members of the family to enjoy it and I will stick to this idea.

DSCN9951 copy.jpg

My “bonsai” baobab in Harare. The ruler is 30 cm long.

Well, to tell you the truth, the possible cost of a transplant really persuaded me not to do it so I will increase the amount of water it gets although I do not think that this will accelerate its growth. The only certainty is that I will not be able to drink tea under its shade.

 

[1] Walker, C. (2013). Baobab Trails. An Artist’s Journey of Wilderness and Wanderings. Ultra Litho (Pty) Ltd., Johannesburg. 287p.

[2] Choronga Safaris. Accessed on 7 October 2016. http://www.chorongasafaris.com/

[3] De Beers (2016). Moving story of a giant baobab tree. Accessed on 21 October 2016. https://www.debeersgroup.com/en/building-forever/our-stories/moving-story-of-a-giant-baobab-tree.html

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2 comments

  1. Dear Julio, we love your stories and research. What about Baines Baobab in Botswana? To us one of the most beautiful (camp) sites in the world. Greetings Lola and Frank

    1. Great to have comments from distinguished Bushsnob past safari companions!!! I agree with you that these are perhaps the nicest group f baobabs I have seen also. Walker includes them in his book and as No. 29 of the 40 trees included in the “Baobab Peace Trail”. Why don’t we try to see them all???

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