Inside Mopani Rest Camp in the Kruger National Park grows a most impressive specimen of a Baobab, which has now been selected as a nesting site by a pair of barn owls. During the day they remain well hidden, but during a night-time walkabout we were thrilled to see one of the pair pluck a thick-knee out of the air in mid-flight!
African legend has it that God got upset with the baobab and kicked it out of heaven. It smashed into the earth upside down, with its roots sticking into the air.
Due to its size, an adult baobab cannot be mistaken for any other tree. They reach heights of over 20m, with trunks sometimes more than 10m in diameter. Trees this size are estimated to be between 2000 and 4000 years old and have served as landmarks in the vast African wilderness for centuries.
Baobabs are deciduous trees, covered in dense green leaves during summer and completely devoid of their foliage in winter. The wood is very soft, and when the tree dies disintegrates quickly into a heap of fibres.
Unfortunately, elephants have a particular fondness for the baobab and especially the bark, often causing the death of the trees by their very destructive feeding habits. Several other animals, including baboons, monkeys, birds, and predators use the tree for food or shelter.
The baobab has many traditional uses: the fruit can be used to make a most refreshing cooldrink with water or milk, the seeds roasted as a coffee substitute, the roots can be used to make a kind of porridge, young leaves cooked like vegetables, and the fibrous bark, apart from being used in traditional medicine, can be woven into mats used to build shelter or as floor covering.
In South Africa, the baobab occurs naturally only in the extreme northern and eastern parts of the Limpopo Province, with magnificent specimens to be found in the Kruger and Mapungubwe National Parks.
Baobabs are arguably the biggest trees we have in South Africa.
They occur naturally only in the far north of the country, and the specimens on show in the Mapungubwe National Park are particularly spectacular.