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Friday, March 28, 2008


The African baobab tree, Adansonia digitata, a relative of the Indian silk-cottons, was introduced into India by Arab traders and black Africans employed in the Moghul army. For sheer size and incongruity of appearance, the baobab has no equal. When fully grown, its gigantic buttressed trunk, which may stretch upto 10 metres in diameter, abruptly ends in thin spreading branches which bear digitate leaves and pendant solitary white flowers having the general features of the silk-cottons. The baobab sometimes remains leafless for months at a time, and its dry external appearance belies the enormous amount of water stored in its trunk and inner bark. (This water can be tapped by making a hole in the tree and inserting a bung to drain off the water at will. A big tree is said to yield a few thousand litres!). It has the reputation of being one of, the longest lived trees in the world and an age of 6000 years has been recorded for one specimen.

The hard-shelled, gourd-like fruit of the baobab contains an acid-tasting edible pulp in which are embedded numerous kidney-shaped, shining seeds. The presence of this sour pulp has earned it the name “cream-of-tartar tree”. The pulp is made into a cooling drink and is rich in ascorbic acid (vitamin C). The tender leaves are used as a vegetable.

The baobab’s purely African and Australian nativity has been cited as a clue to the “continental drift”—the breaking apart of the southern landmass known as Gondwana land in the Mesozoic era --And wherever the baobab is, there are folklores around it – some call it evil, cursed by nature, a haunt of the spirits ; in Senegal, they used to bury the griots – a sect of artists, poets and singers--- in the tree’s hollow. The Arabs who brought it to India, however, believed it to have magical and medicinal properties.
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