The Great Baobab near Victoria Falls, is known literally as “The Tree of Life” and it towers 20m over the landscape like a great living monument. This massive baobab (Adansonia digitata) stands proudly upright and is a couple of thousand years old; with a trunk (16m in diameter) so large it can fit 40 people inside it at one time.
It has a fibrous pulp that stores enormous amounts of water in a very broad trunk that fluctuates in width depending on the season, creating an entire ecosystem that seeks out its shade, shelter, water and food during harsh times when everything else has dried up.
The strange nature of the tree has spawned many stories, and those who live near this incredible tree are filled with folktales and traditional medicines brought about by the mystery of this strange upside down tree. Certain tribes wash their baby boys in water soaked in Baobab bark, so that like the trees, their sons will grow up to be tall and strong, others say that the tree was stuffed in the ground upside down to stop it from boasting as it lorded over the smaller plants. There is even an expansion on this legend saying that after they were thrust upside down into the earth, evil spirits haunted the sweet white flowers they produce, and that a lion will eat anyone who dares to eat a flower from the tree.
The fruits are used for traditional medicinal uses, and are cracked open to harvest the seeds rich in Vitamin C and tartaric acid. Even the bark is used to weave mats, bags and hats which are sold as a means to an income.
As some of the oldest living parts of our natural world, some Baobab trees have been alive for 5 000 years or more, although the Great Baobab is thought to be about 1,500 to 2000 years old.
The reason for their longevity is simply put down to their resilience. They are very difficult to kill, largely due to their size, and they have known to survive fires or even the stripping of their bark by elephants, which simply re-grows.
Not long ago, it was believed that Baobabs were in danger of becoming extinct. However botanists then realised that the young saplings and the mature trees look nothing alike, and that in fact, they are not in the least bit endangered – great news for thousands of future generations of humans and animals alike.