The Big Five (No, not that Big Five) – #1: The Baobab

The Big Five (No, not that Big Five) – #1: The Baobab

As a nation, and a continent, we most certainly consider ourselves spoiled to be home to the renowned Big Five, as well as an abundance of fascinating wild animals that roam our varying landscapes.

What fewer people are aware of is that we also host five more towering giants, the Big Five Trees of Africa – the Baobab, Yellow Fever-Tree, Knobthorn, Marula and the Mopane.

Against all odds, even here at Abelana Game Reserve, we get to enjoy the shade and magnificent beauty of these colossal trees – and many other equally impressive species.

The Baobab Tree

Perhaps the most unexpected species on our reserve, Abelana’s baobab trees are shrouded in mystery – the biggest question being, how did they come to grow on Abelana, so far removed from their original habitat up north?

Our largest baobab tree sits on the south of the reserve. It’s estimated to be over 1800 years old. While some have hypothesised that the seed may have arrived via elephants, through their dung, Abelana guide, Bill Drew counters this, pointing out that elephants empty their bowels far too frequently to carry a seed over such vast distances.

What’s more likely is that the seeds were carried by early tribes migrating southward some 2000 years ago, who might have been keeping a stash of the nutrient-rich baobab fruit for eating. To support this theory, one of our baobabs is located beside a koppie, where signs of iron ore and copper smelting have been discovered, as well as clay pot remnants.

Fast facts about the baobab:

–        Baobabs can live for up to 3000 years, growing as tall as 22m with a trunk diameter of up to 38m.

–        They’re prehistoric – meaning that their presence on earth predates mankind.

–        An old baobab can create its own ecosystem, supporting many animals who eat from it (elephant, baboon, bats) and reside within it (bush-babies, birds, insects, and even leopards!)

–        The baobab tree yields incredible nutrition and medicinal value through its fruit, leaves and bark.

–        Many early tribes believed that the gods angrily thrust the baobab into the ground, roots upward, because the great, towering trees were full of pride.

However they arrived at the reserve, Abelana’s baobabs are majestic to behold, an unlikely find in our region, and a special sighting for our guests.

Another Abelana favourite: The Sycamore Fig

While not a member of the official Big Five tree clan, the sycamore fig is one of our absolute favourite trees here on Abelana Game Reserve. Sycamore figs populate many of Africa’s subtropical regions and form part of the lush forests that flank our very own Selati River.

Over a span of several centuries, they grow to around 20m tall, but taller specimens have been reported. Sycamores are easily identified by the sweet fruit that grows in clusters from the tree bark. They’re actually part of the mulberry tree family and have even been mentioned in ancient scriptures and writings.

Here’s why we love the Sycamore Figs:

  • They feed a greater variety of species than any tree of Africa – primates, birds, insects, large mammals, bats, reptiles; the abundant, delicious fig attracts creatures of all kinds.
  • Much like the baobab, sycamore figs create entire ecosystems by hosting a variety of animals that browse the fruits, but also a variety that hunts within its branches.
  • They rely on a single insect species to survive – the fig wasp pollinates the fig buds, which eventually ripen into fruit, and ultimately, seeds.
  • Sycamore figs go through fruit-bearing cycles up to four times each year!
  • Sycamores are tough and can withstand heavy weather, large mammal assaults and bug or borer infestations.

At Abelana River Lodge, river-side forests of sycamore figs provide glorious shade, and having to clear the lodge decks of fallen fruit every day has become a peaceful, way-of-life routine – a small price to pay, to live beneath such evergreen, ever-alive beauty.