Tag Archives: Baobab

Limpopo Ramble 2022: The Land of the Giants

In the Mapungubwe National Park, three aspects are truly iconic of this landscape: Elephants, baobabs, and rocky hills and cliffs. It’s as if the entire atmosphere of the Park hinges on these key natural attributes.

Mapungubwe, situated as it is at the place where the borders of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet, has a high population of elephants and especially so when the dry season concentrate the behemoths along the banks of the Limpopo River. From families of cows and tiny calves to enormous bulls can all be expected along any of the roads traversing the Park, and sometimes waiting for these charismatic animals to clear the way can be a very entertaining delay. At other times, the dense mopane veld may lead to you inadvertently finding yourself in the personal space of one of the giants and they might react with more than a little agitation!

The Elephants even move through Mapungubwe’s unfenced main camp Leokwe, as we experienced one evening upon arriving at out cottage.

Baobabs are the undisputable rulers of Mapungubwe’s plant kingdom. With this part of the world now firmly in Winter’s grip, the trees are mostly leafless, lending more credence to the myth that the Creator tossed them to earth, planting them upside down. Elephants have a paticular liking for the pulpy wood of the baobab, and many of Mapungubwe’s trees show damage as a result, leading to the Park authorities protecting some prime specimens by using wire as wrapping around their trunks (those of the trees, not those of the elephants 😉 )

On the largest scale of all, it is the rocky, hilly landscapes that really forms the basis of Mapungubwe’s ancient atmosphere. The hills are composed mainly of dolerite – the remains of molten rock pushed up from deep inside the earth through sandstone that has long since weathered away to leave only the harder volcanic geology visible.

Baobabs and Owls in Mopani

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!

Baobab

Adansonia digitata

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.

Baobab, Mapungubwe (1)

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.

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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.