Welcome to one of the world’s three biggest trees… That depends of course on how you measure them. We are looking at girth at chest height here. The biggest by far is the Tule Cypress in Mexico which you can read about here, which has a girth of 54m (164 feet) and is most possibly the biggest biomass on the planet.
But this is one of two baobab trees (Adansonia digitata) in Limpopo, each of which the Ultimate Lover of Trees, Thomas Pakenham, measured at 34 meters (111 feet) on consecutive days. Pakenham, who is Irish, is best known in South Africa for his definitive history, The Boer War. But about the time my dad was planting the arboretum in 1997, Packenham published the first of what has become a series of magical books on great trees of the world: Meetings with Remarkable Trees. (ISBN 0-297-83255-7) . We presented my father with a copy of the book inscribed: We celebrate the work of a remarkable man:- few people ever plant an arboretum, fewer still do it in their late sixties. May your trees still pay tribute to your vision in the 22nd century. Since then we have bought him the books as they were published. Packenham writes of the Sagole Baobab, as this tree is known, in the only book so far he has devoted to one species – Adansonia, the Baobab. It is called The Remarkable Baobab and was published in 2004 (ISBN 1 86842 201 1)
Our Rotary Club had a weekend outing to Venda two weeks ago, and visited the tree (at 22°30’ S 30° 38’ E) in the company of one of the great tour guides of the area, Isaac Rambauli. Our club is campaigning to integrate Rotary’s Preserve Planet Earth program more fully into the ethos of what Rotary is all about – which is why we had a special shirt printed. But more about that in another post! Below we have stopped to look at a veritable forest of baobabs of all ages…
Talking of the age of a baobab – carbon-dating is the only way to test their age, as the fibrous trunk does not have year-rings. In fact there are those who argue that the baobab is not a tree at all but a giant succulent! There are hugely exaggerated claims about their age – the other biggest tree has been claimed in print to be 6000 years old and reliable resources talk of large specimens being 4000 years old. There is no carbon-dating evidence of trees older than between 2000 and 3000 years. Which I guess is a ripe old age anyway. The fibrous nature of their structure seems to result in inexact carbon-dating. I’d love to know the age of the trees below. There is a good chance that 700 years ago they were admired by the inhabitants of nearby Mapungubwe, one of the oldest and most sophisticated cultures in this part of Africa of which we have detailed records.
I photographed them on Samaria, a wonderful private game reserve, today part of the Mapungubwe National Park, which still belongs to my godmother’s family. I will be spending time there in two weeks and will write more about it thereafter. Here the trees, of the most beautiful specimens to be found anywhere, are in their naked winter splendour. Truly, the Baobab is one of the wonders of Africa!