Baobab – Tree of Life

It stands out, its trunk is mighty and unusually wide, like a single giant elephant leg. The baobab tree, also called baobab tree, we see again and again on our journey through Malawi. It is a gathering place in villages, standing on the bluffs of Lake Malawi, the floodplains of the Shire River, or along dusty roads. Its trunk serves as a water reservoir for the elephants in the dry season, its fruits are vitamin bombs and with its seeds the Malawis play their popular boabab game. Interesting facts about an icon of the savannah.

Die größte Affenbrotbaumart ist der Afrikanische Affenbrotbaum (Adansonia digitata). Die Bäume können in ihren außergewöhnlichen Stämmen große Mengen Süßwasser speichern. Das macht sie zu Lebensrettern in Zeiten der Wasserknappheit / © Foto: Georg Berg
The largest baobab tree species is the African baobab (Adansonia digitata). The trees can store large amounts of fresh water in their unusual trunks. This makes them lifesavers in times of water scarcity / © Photo: Georg Berg

It is the beginning of May. In Malawi, the rainy season has just ended. There has been an unusual amount of rain. 100 days of rain without a break, and parts of the country were ravaged by Cyclone Freddy, which did not weaken on land as usual, but kept moving out to sea, gathering strength and returning to land with destructive force. Freddy destroyed houses and bridges. People lost their lives. At Lake Malawi, Africa’s third-largest lake, the beach disappears in many places, so high is the water after the 2023 rainy season. The Shire River overflows its banks. Baobabs near the water still have leaves. Baobabs in the dry hinterland are already bare.

Baobabbäume benötigen mindestens 20 Jahre, um Früchte zu tragen, weshalb sie nicht kommerziell angebaut werden. Die Baobabfrucht ist von großer Bedeutung. Sie ist reich an Vitamin C, Kalium und anderen wertvollen Nährstoffen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Baobab trees need at least 20 years to bear fruit, so they are not grown commercially. The baobab fruit is of great importance. It is rich in vitamin C, potassium and other valuable nutrients / © Photo: Georg Berg

The fruits of the baobabs are harvested by the village communities. There are no plantation trees. A baobab can live for several thousand years. However, it takes at least 20 years before it bears its first fruit. The oldest specimen is in Zimbabwe and is estimated to be 2450 years old. Because the baobab stores large amounts of water, it can produce nutritious fruit even in the driest years. In Malawi, it is considered the tree of life.

Verkauf von Baobab Früchten am Straßenrand. Die Früchte, Samen und das daraus hergestellte Pulver werden auf lokalen Märkten verkauft / © Foto: Georg Berg
Selling baobab fruit by the roadside. The fruits, seeds and powder made from them are sold at local markets / © Photo: Georg Berg
Früchte und Samen des Baobab Tree (Affenbrotbaum). Die Früchte sind reich an Vitamin C, Kalium und anderen wertvollen Nährstoffen. In Malawi werden sie als Nahrungsmittel und Heilmittel verwendet. Baobabbäume benötigen mindestens 20 Jahre, um Früchte zu tragen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Fruits and seeds of the Baobab Tree (baobab tree). The fruits are rich in vitamin C, potassium and other valuable nutrients. In Malawi they are used as food and medicine. Baobab trees need at least 20 years to bear fruit / © Photo: Georg Berg

The fruits have a velvety skin and are surprisingly light in the hand. If it didn’t rustle and rattle when you shake them, you might think they were hollow and empty. Their shell is thick and sturdy. Only with a tool or if you throw them hard on the ground, cracks appear and you can break open the fruit. White, feathery lumps emerge. Each seed is surrounded by dried pulp. You can pop the clumps in your mouth like drops. They taste pleasantly sweet and sour, are full of vitamins and minerals, and are particularly rich in potassium, iron, and vitamin C. At the many street markets in rural areas, you can get the whole fruit. In the bigger cities like Lilongwe or Blantyre you can also buy the powder.

Baobab ist einer der bekanntesten Bäume Afrikas und wird auch als Affenbrotbaum bezeichnet. Mit seinem charakteristischen kurzen, aber dicken Stamm prägt er die Landschaft der afrikanischen Savannen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Baobab is one of the most famous trees in Africa and is also called baobab. With its characteristic short but thick trunk, it characterizes the landscape of the African savannahs / © Photo: Georg Berg
Souvenirs aus Malawi. Baobab Bäume gelten in Afrika als Bäume des Lebens / © Foto: Georg Berg
Souvenirs from Malawi. Baobab trees are considered trees of life in Africa / © Photo: Georg Berg
Baobab Tree im Liwonde National Park. Der Baum speichert im Stamm viel Wasser. Elefanten brechen bei Trockenheit die Rinde auf. Dieser Stamm zeigt die Spuren von Elefanten / © Foto: Georg Berg
Baobab Tree in Liwonde National Park. The tree stores a lot of water in its trunk. Elephants break the bark during drought. This trunk shows the traces of elephants / © Photo: Georg Berg

Animals help with the spread of baobabs. For them, the hard shell is no problem. After the seeds have passed the digestive tract of an elephant, they are widely dispersed. Baobabs are said to have existed more than 200 million years ago, at the time of the dinosaurs. Which brings us back to the first impression, the resemblance to the leg of an elephant or dinosaur?

Mächtiger Stamm eines Affenbrotbaums mitten in einem Dorf. Der Baum ist oft das Zentrum des gesellschaftlichen Lebens in einem Dorf in Malawi / © Foto: Georg Berg
Mighty trunk of a baobab tree in the middle of a village. The tree is often the center of social life in a village in Malawi / © Photo: Georg Berg

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The research trip was supported in Malawi by the Ministry of Tourism

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Our mode of operation is characterized by self-experienced, well-researched text work and professional, vivid photography. For all stories, travel impressions and photos are created in the same place. Thus, the photos complement and support what is read and carry it further.

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