The baobab is surely the botanical symbol of Africa, instantly recognizable from afar and a compelling icon of the African landscape. This age-old ‘upside-down tree’ invariably inspires wonder, awe and mystery, and has intrigued travellers for hundreds of years. In this absorbing and inspired account of The African Baobab, author Rupert Watson explores the life and times of this fascinating tree, from its early Madagascan beginnings to its present status on the continent and its future in a changing Africa. He effortlessly mixes natural science, history and personal experience, drawing on extracts from the journals of early explorers who, on encountering these extraordinary trees, measured and sketched them for a sceptical audience back home; and he presents intriguing, detailed accounts of the baobab’s eccentric growth and reproductive habits, its present-day distribution, and its wide impact on everyday African life.
The author takes a close look at the myriad uses of baobabs over the ages: their hollow centres have served as prisons, toilets, wells and bars, and some specimens have even been used as a refuge in battle or as burial sites. Their fibre, seeds and fruit are credited with hundreds of applications, both practical and medicinal. Many locals feel a spiritual connection to these trees – believing them to possess mystical powers – and use them in rituals to promote healing or luck. Other relationships between humans and the baobab are explored too, often illustrated by delightful anecdotes. The rich and enthusiastic text is complemented by evocative, colourful images that show the curious baobab in all its many stages, moods and guises – and sometimes in the most unlikely places. This book cannot fail to inspire.