I have recently come across yet another fascinating book by Thomas Pakenham on the most remarkable Baobab tree and for all those who have an interest in trees, this is one very special tree. It is a living monument,of colossal size and form and is often referred to as the upside down tree.
There are eight species of the Baobab genus, Adansonia, but only one in Africa, one in Australia and the remaining six in Madagascar. Adansonia digitata is the African Baobab tree and most commonly seen in pictures and widespread across Africa providing a valuable resource to the natural environment. The baobab’s bark, leaves, fruit, and trunk are all used. The bark of the baobab is used for cloth and rope, the leaves for condiments and medicines, while the fruit, called “monkey bread”, is eaten. Sometimes people live inside of the huge trunks and the hollow trunks of living trees have served as storage places, as well as places of worship and even as prisons.
The mighty Baobab tree dates back to well over 3000 years ago and some of the remaining trees have girths well in excess of 25 metres. They are pollinated by bats and insects who are attracted to the white blossoms that emit a musky odour and go onto produce enormous seed pods that are then dispersed by mammals including antelope, elephants and monkeys. The seed pod itself contains a white pulp from which ‘cream of tartar’ is derived and used for baking.
The tree can attain heights of up to 20 metres and the trunk is made up of parrenchy-like tissues saturated with water, and it is estimated that the Baobab can store more than 120,000 litres of water forming a reservoir. Often older trees were hollowed out by machetes and filled up by locals during the rainy season and a tap was inserted and the tree then became the village water tank. However, baobab trees have soft pithy wood that rots easily and can lead to the decline of the tree in the long term. They have short stubby branches that aid in conserving energy and water too with sparse leaves that fall in early autumn. They are an extreme survivor and their roots have the capacity to go in search of water hundreds of feet from the trunk. This tree like many within the UK provides a valuable natural ecosystem within itself and offers habitat to a wide range of rodents, amphibians, mammals, like bush-babys can live in the crown as well as birds and insects. As the tree matures, more cracks, cavities and holes develop and these provide ideal nesting sites for birds and other creatures. The Baobab is a remarkable feat of nature and has the ability to adapt and survive in semi-arid conditions. However, in order to ensure the legacy of this tree it is now a protected species to ensure its future in our environment.
So in terms of bonsai, what is this tree like? Well I have so far grown seven from seeds purchased from Nickys seeds (http://www.nickys-nursery.co.uk/) and they are now around 2 to 3 years old and the above photo show the saplings in 2010. They are now kept inside in a conservatory and the main trunks have started to thicken and become bulbous in shape. They had started to become very leggy so I have reduced them down by 2/3rds and I for an experiment have planted the cut sections of stems into the same plant pots and they have developed roots so now I have 15 developing Baobab saplings. Furthermore, I am not the only one who thinks Baobabs are feasible as bonsai as you can see from posts on the internet bonsai club at http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com/t4588-baobab-bonsai-feasible-style.
During the winter months I read that you should remove the trees from their pots and remove all the soil and store them in a dark dry place until spring and then you pot them back up and they come into leaf again. I was very sceptical of this initially but tried it over this winter and it did work and they once potted developed shoots and are now in leaf. They do not like over watering as this can rot the trunk but do as per the above cope with water as they store it. I will continue to prune them and see how they develop and have yet to see an example of a bonsai Baobab in the UK in the flesh but know they exist as I have read articles in Bonsai Focus on the ones in South Africa.