Baobab: The Tree of Life
Age/Grade Level or Audience
Elementary school children, scouts, 4-H, or religious schools.
Describe to students the importance of the baobab tree to Africans.
Read aloud a book about the baobab or monkey-bread tree. Point out the difference between biological facts and legends about the tree. Emphasize these facts:
- The baobab is one of the world's oldest plants.
- It can live as long as a thousand years.
- It can grow sixty feet high, forty feet wide, and ten feet thick.
- It is sometimes called the upside-down tree because, when the leaves fall, its stunted limbs, protruding from a grotesquely thickened trunk, look like roots pointing at the sky.
- The baobab is a succulent plant so soft that a bullet can pass through it.
- Its spongy inner tissue stores water to help it survive drought.
- The tree produces a gourd-like fruit hanging from long twigs.
- The baobab's ability to adapt to changes in the environment accounts for its long life.
Attenborough, David, Atlas of the Living World, Houghton Mifflin, 1989.
Bash, Barbara, Tree of Life: The World of the African Baobab, Little, Brown, 1989.
Cochrane, Jennifer, Trees of the Tropics, Steck-Vaughn, 1990.
Hunter, Bobbi Dooley, The Legend of the African Bao-Bab Tree, Africa World Press, 1995.
Explain why Africans revere the gnarled baobab and its role in the African ecosystem. Mention these facts:
- The baobab is a nesting place for birds, such as the yellow-collared lovebird, mosque swallow, orange-billed parrot, lilac-breasted roller, redheaded buffalo weaver, honey guide bird, pygmy falcon, superb starling, and yellow-billed hornbill.
- Insects make their homes in the bark, limbs, and leaves of the baobab.
- Bats pollinate the baobab's flowers.
- Natives pick the leaves and cook them like spinach.
- Elephants eat the smooth, glossy purplish-gray bark.
- Waxy flowers turn into firm-shelled fruit, which can be cracked and eaten.
- Parts of the tree are used for soap, weaving, drinks, fertilizer, packaging, drinking cups, musical instruments, rope, and candy.
- The spongy wood is light enough to make fishing floats, canoes, and housing material.
- As a medicine, the baobab is used to boost the immune system and to cure sores, malaria, dysentery, fever, earache, and kidney infection.
- The acid in the baobab nut is used to curdle milk or harden rubber.
- A burning solution of baobab pulp rids animals of insect pests.