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Monday, September 9, 2013


An R. Ann Siracusa Travelblog

I've already blogged about African baboonery, and now we're off to meet the baobab!

No, it's not another kind of wild animal. It's a tree...but a very unique one. Among the millions of species of trees on the planet, there is nothing quite like the Baobab. And my heroine, Harry Ruby, has to spend the night in one with a monkey.

Okay. So a tree is a tree is a tree. I know you didn't drop by the RB4U blog for a botany lesson, but hear me out. It's not just a tree, but a sacred link to the past and an essential part of the cultures where it grows, a symbol of strength, wisdom, health, long life, and beauty.


Of the eight species of the genus Adansonia – You really needed to know that, right? -- six are native to Madagascar, one to the African and Arab peninsula, and one to Australia. They can live to be thousands of years old and have a peculiar, massive, bottle-shaped trunk and sparse foliage. The branches look like spread out like roots, hence the names "upside-down tree".

Every part of the tree can be used, which the primary reason it is called the tree of life. It's fruit, bark, roots, and wood provide innumerable products used by the native African peoples for thousands of years. Food, red dye, Vitamin C, medicine, rope and strings for musical instruments. Canoes are carved from the wood. The list goes on and on.

Africa abounds with legends about the baobab. According to, this is one of the most common.

"A very, very long time ago, say some African legends, the first baobab sprouted beside a small lake. As it grew taller and looked about, it spied other trees and noted their colorful flowers, straight and handsome trunks, and large leaves. Then one day, the wind died away leaving the water smooth as a mirror, and the tree finally got to see itself.  The reflected imaged shocked it to its root hairs. Its own flowers lacked bright color, its leaves were tiny, it was grossly fat, and its bark resembled the wrinkled hide of an old elephant.

In a strongly worded invocation to the creator, the baobab complained about the bad deal it had been given. This impertinence had not effect. Following a hasty reconsideration, the diety felt fully satisfied. Relishing the fact that some organisms were purposefully less than perfect, the creator demanded to know whether the baobab found the hippopotamus beautiful, or the hyena's cry pleasant, then retired in a huff behind the clouds.

But back on earth, the barrel-chested whiner neither stopped peering at its reflection nor raising its voice in protect. Finally, the exasperated creator returned from the sky, seized the ingrate by the trunk, yanked it from the ground, and replanted it upside-down. And from that day since, the baobab has been unable to see its reflection or make complaint. For thousands of years, it has worked strictly in silence , paying off its ancient transgression by doing good deeds for people."


The baobab (Zimbabwe) in the top photo shows the shape that generated the name upside-down tree. Most are small to moderate sized, but they can get huge with trunks, which are mostly hollow, big enough to use for housing, chapels, barns, shops, bus shelters, post boxes, burial sites, wells, flush lavatories, and prisons. In Queensland, Australia, one served as the town prison.

Most of the trunks I saw weren't anywhere the girth of the tree in the photo above, and some of the African baobab don't get that tall. Below is a photo I took a photo of a baobab near Victoria Falls.

Using this as an example, it would be feasible for an athletic person like my heroine to be able to throw her backpack around a lower branch, "walk" up the trunk, and climb onto the branch.

Hopefully, on the off chance that anyone from Madagascar might read my novel, I apologize for my flight of fancy and ask that person to cut me some slack. I hadn't seen the baobab from Madagascar.


There are six different species of baobab tree, some of which are very different from their African neighbors. Take a look at the photos of the below of the Giant Madagascar Baobab, and you'll understand my apology. This is where the 90 to 100 feet in height kicks in.

I imagine these account for the name "bottle tree" because of the shape and appearance of the trunk. In fact, because the trunks are mostly hollow, they serve a water reservoirs during dry spells and can store up to 32,000 gallons. All species have trunks which rely on a system of hydraulic water pressure to stay upright. The wood is porous and retains water, and the extensive root system remains close to the surface for better water absorption.

They look otherworldly, don't they? Maybe Madagascar is going on the bucket list.

All For A Blast Of Hot Air

Watch for the release of All For A Blast Of Hot Air in November, 2013. Travel with Harriet Ruby, Tour Director Extraordinaire, and her fiancĂ©, Europol spy Will Talbot, as they travel in Zimbabwe and Botswana pursued by and in pursuit of – How'd you guess? – international terrorists. Find out if they finally get their HEA.



Tina Donahue said...

Fascinating stuff, Ann - love the photos! :)

Cara Marsi said...

Very cool pictures. Love them. Thanks for the interesting info.

Sandy said...

Ann, what an interesting topic. The photos were really good.

Melissa Keir said...

Those are some interesting trees. The photos make it all the more appealing. I can't imagine spending a night in any tree, let alone with a monkey, but some of those are really tall! Yikes! Any hunky firefighters willing to get me down?

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