The Umbrella Thorn Tree has the classic, umbrella-shaped canopy associated with thorn trees. Many bird species take advantage of this protection and build their nests in the canopy. It is fairly slow growing and reaches a final height of between 9-15 ft with a spread of 24-40 ft.
Baobab is the most common name for this strange looking tree. And no, it is not dead as I first thought. Other common names include bottle tree, the tree of life, upside-down tree, and monkey bread tree. The species reach heights 16 to 98 ft and trunk diameters of 23 to 36 ft. That’s diameter, not circumference. Its trunk can hold up to 31,700 gallons of water. For most of the year, the tree is leafless, and looks very much like it has its roots sticking up in the air.
The trees are long-lived, but just how long is disputed. The owners of Sunland Farm in Limpopo, South Africa have built a called “The Big Baobab Pub” inside the hollow trunk of the 72 ft high tree. The tree is 155 ft in circumference, and is said to have been carbon dated at over 6,000 years old.
The Baobab Tree is known as the tree of life, with good reason. It can provide shelter, clothing, food, and water for the animal and human inhabitants of the African savannah regions. The cork-like bark and huge stem are fire resistant and are used for making cloth and rope. The leaves are used as condiments and medicines. The fruit, called “monkey bread”, is edible, and full of Vitamin C.
The fruit has a velvety shell and is about the size of a coconut, weighing about 3.2 lb. It has a somewhat acidic flavor, described as ‘somewhere between grapefruit, pear, and vanilla.Unfortunately, I did not get to taste it.
The tree can store thousands of gallons of water, which is an adaptation to the harsh drought conditions of its environment. The tree may be tapped in dry periods. Mature trees are usually hollow, providing living space for many animals and humans
The sausage tree of sub-Saharan Africa is beautiful in flower. The blood-red to maroon flowers hang in long panicles. The fragrance of the flower is not pleasing to humans but attracts the dwarf epaulet bat, its pollinator. As the flowers drop from the tree, animals come to feed on the nectar-rich blooms. Impala, duiker, baboons, bush pigs, and lovebirds all feed on the flowers of the Sausage tree.
Grey fruits grow out of these flowers. It was obviously in “sausage” rather than in flower when I was there. These grey fruits resemble sausages and can grow for months to become up to two feet long and weigh up to 15 lb. The blood-red flowers of the South African sausage tree bloom at night on long, ropelike stalks that hang down from the limbs of this tropical tree. The fragrant, nectar-rich blossoms are pollinated by bats, insects and sunbirds in their native habitat. The mature fruits dangle from the long stalks like giant sausages. The rind of the fruit is used to aid the fermentation of the local brews. The pods are kept as religious charms and fetishes, and produce a red dye when boiled. Ointment is made from the fruit and is used to treat skin conditions.
The “sausages” cannot be eaten but the skin is ground to a pulp and used externally for medicine. Its most important use is for the cure of skin ailments especially skin cancers. The fruit is burnt to ashes and pounded by a mortar with oil and water to make a paste to apply to the skin.