Tuesday, 15 March 2011

These trees may be the oldest life forms on the African continent. Many still standing today have certainly been around since the birth of Christ; others for far longer. Baobab trees flower for the first time at about 20 years of age. In mid-summer, dozens of luminous white blossoms—the size of saucers—open at sunset. Their strong musky odor attracts fruit bats and hosts of insects. Large bats seek out the sweet nectar and collect and distribute pollen as they move from flower to flower. The life of the flower is short-lived; it drops to the ground within hours after the bats and insects feast on the nectar. The seeds are housed in a hairy pod that resembles a miniature rugby ball, inside of which is a white pulp from which “cream of tartar” is derived. Once the flowers fall to the ground, the pods are fed upon by baboons, monkeys, antelope and elephants, who disperse the hard baobab seeds inside the pod. The baobab’s branches, with their hollows, dents and bloated stems, provide shelter and home for a great many animals: bushbabies, squirrels, rodents, lizards, snakes and tree frogs, as well as spiders, scorpions, and insects may live their entire lives in a single tree. Holes in the trunk provide ideal nesting sites for birds, such as rollers, hornbills, parrots, kestrels and spinetails. Larger cavities are often occupied by families of Barn Owls or Ground Hornbills. Eagles, vultures and storks frequently build their large stick nests on the outer branches. The nests of red-billed Buffalo-weavers are more often found in Baobabs than any other tree.

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