The Baobab Tree, which is botanically known as ‘Adansonia digitata’, is a native of Madagascar and North Western Australia. The life span of this tree, which has been estimated by the carbon dating method, is believed to live between 2,000 and 6,000 years. Can you imagine your generation after generation watching the same tree? The Baobab tree is also known as the ‘Monkey Bread Tree’. Apart from providing shelter, the Baobab is an excellent source of food. The seed kernels which can be roasted or even eaten raw are extremely nutritious. The leaves and roots have great medicinal value. It is believed that there are seven different varieties of Baobab trees.
Two majestic Baobab trees with very wide tree-trunks are found in Barbados. It is possible that the seeds of the tree were originally carried as food from Africa and Madagascar to Australia. It is not know when and how the two baobab trees arrived at Barbados. But, it is believed that they were brought to Bridgetown from Guinea in Africa in 1738. The largest of these trees are found in the Queen’s park in Bridgetown. Can you imagine the circumference of the tree trunk? It takes 15 people with their arms stretched to encircle the tree whose circumference is 55 feet. The other Baobab tree can be found on Warren’s Road in St. Michael.
The stem of the gigantic baobab tree is covered with a layer of bark which could be anything from 50-100 mm thickness. The outer bark is grayish brown and usually smooth. The leaves are about the size of a hand and divided in 5-7 finger–like leaflets. The leaves fall off during winters and again appear during later part of spring or during early summers. The Baobab tree flowers in the wet season and the pendulous flower is rather large and grows even up to a diameter of 200 mm. They are white in color and smell quite sweet. The flowers bloom during the evenings from large buds that appear on long stalks during the winter months (between October and December). Moths and bats are attracted for pollination by the tree which gives out a strong perfume. The fertilized flowers develop into velvety pods which contain seeds. The seeds are covered by a hard protective cover. When the cover breaks, dispersion of seeds takes place through animals and birds.
The fruit of the baobab tree is a strange fruit. It is a large oval shaped capsule, which looks like a coconut, and is covered with yellow colored brownish hair. The fruit has six times more vitamin C than oranges, and two times more calcium than milk. The fruits contain a white powder-like substance that has a high ascorbic acid content. This powder-like substance can be soaked for sometime in plain water to obtain a cool health drink, that tastes somewhat like lime water. This drink can even be used for treating high fevers. The pulp which is white and powdery has a cheese-like texture. It is highly nutritious and rich in anti-oxidants, iron and potassium.
Baobab trees have been put to a number of uses, and sometimes strange ones. A number of animals such as squirrels, rats, lizards, snakes, spiders, scorpions, and insects make the tree their home and they live their entire life on a single tree. Birds make nests in the holes of the trunk. The hollow trunks of the trees have been used as homes, storage barns, places of worship, prisons, and even tombs.
When you visit Barbados, do make it a point to see these two magnificent Baobab trees.