The amazing baobab [wiki] (Adansonia) or monkey bread tree can grow up to nearly 100 feet (30 m) tall and 35 feet (11 m) wide. Their defining characteristic: their swollen trunk are actually water storage - the baobab tree can store as much as 31,700 gallon (120,000 l) of water to endure harsh drought conditions.
Baobab trees are native to Madagascar (it's the country's national tree!), mainland Africa, and Australia. A cluster of "the grandest of all" baobab trees (Adansonia grandidieri) can be found in the Baobab Avenue, near Morondava, in Madagascar:
|A toilet built inside a baobab tree in the Kayila Lodge, Zambia|
Throughout its distribution the baobab plays a useful and valuable role in the economy of the local inhabitants. Practically all parts of the tree can be utilized. It provides food for both man and his livestock shelter for the living and the dead, clothing, medicine, as well as sundry necessities for hunting, fishing and entertainment. These various uses are discussed in relation to the various parts of the tree: roots, trunk, leaves, flowers, and fruit.
There are many practical uses of baobab trees in Africa, like for a toilet:
a) Hollow trunks: The hollow trunks of living trees may be put to a variety of purposes. By far the most common is for the storage of water, a practice first recorded by the Arab traveller Ibn Battuta (1929) from naturally hollowed trees in Mali during the early 14th century. The hollowed trunk may be carved out in 3–4 days; a medium sized tree may hold 400 gallons while a large tree could contain 2000 gallons, and the water therein remains sweet several years if the hollow is kept well closed (Drar, 1970; Nachtigal, 1971). The practice however is viewed with disfavour by medical officers as providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes (Burkillined.). The opening to the hollow is preferably made just above the axil of a branch so that some water may run directly down the branch into the hollow. If possible the soil below the canopy is removed in order to form a small, shallow depression from which the rainwater can collect and then be taken by means of a bucket and a long rope to the opening in the trunk.
An opening in the top of the trunk creates a cooling draught (Koeleman, 1972). Yet another hollow tree in the Transvaal is used as a dairy (Guy, 1971), who also reports of another tree in Botswana being used as a dwelling.
Since the buffalo-weaver birds in Northern Transvaal always rest on the western side of the baobab, the tree can be used in lieu of a compass (E.A. Galpin, personal communication, 1969).
b) Bark: The bark fibres are commonly completely stripped from the lower trunk yet the tree is able to survive and regenerate new bark. The fibre from the inner bark is particularly strong and durable and is widely used throughout the distribution range of the tree for rope, cordage, harness straps, strings for musical instruments, baskets, nets, snares, fishing lines, fibre, cloth, etc. (Griasard, 1891; Williamson, 1955; Sabri, 1968; Woodruff, 1969; Drar, 1970). In both Senegal and Ethiopia the fibres are woven into waterproof hats that may also serve as drinking vessels (De Wildeman, 1903; Grisard, 1891).
The dried bark was once exported to Europe for the manufacture of packing paper (Dalziel, 1937; Burkill, fined.), and since 1848 it has also been imported into Europe under the name of cortex cael cedra, and has been used in the treatment of fevers and as a substitute for chinchona bark (Watt and Breyer; Brandwijk, 1962). Its benefit as a febrifuge however has not been detected in experimental malaria treatments, although it is both diaphoretic and antiperiodic (Burkill, ined.). The bark is certainly used for the treatment of fever in Nigeria (Oliver, 1959). The bark contains a white, semi-fluid gum obtainable from bark wounds. The gum is odourless, tasteless, acidic and insoluble (Watts, 1889) and is used for cleansing sores (Burkill, ined.).
The bark has a bitter taste, and there are uncorroborated accounts of the bark being eaten in Senegal. According to Loustalot and Paga (1949) there are no alkaloids present, and accounts from Nigeria are inconclusive (Burkill, fined.). However, according to Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk (1962) it contains the alkaloid adansonin, which has a strophanthuslike action, yet in East Africa the bark is used as an antidote to strophanthus poisoning. In Malawi the flesh of an animal killed by a poisoned arrow has the juice of the baobab bark pushed into the arrow wound.
In some countries the bark is used for tanning. In Congo Brazzaville a bark decoction is used to bathe rickety children and in Tanzania as a mouthwash for toothache (Burkill, ined.). The ash from the bark and fruit toiled in oil is used as a soap (Rock, 1861; Watt, 1889).
In the Sudan Republic the trees are regarded as personal property that may be inherited or sold (Nachtigal, 1971) and the ownerships of the various trees are kept in local government registers. The trees were often the only source of water available during the dry season for both villagers and long-distance travelers, although a large number of the trees were deliberately destroyed during the time of the Mahdi in order to prevent the movement of people (Owen, 1970). Hollow trees filled with water in the North Frontier Province of Kenya were used by slave and ivory raiders from Ethiopia in order to enable them to cross otherwise waterless country (E.A. Galpin, personal communication, 1969).
Early records of European travelers in South Africa noted the use by the Bantu tribes of water stored in natural hollows (Story, 1964). A chain-like avenue of trees across the Kalahari to south-west Africa was used for water storage, with a long established tradition of death should a traveler leave the bung out of a tree and waste water (Mogg, 1950). The bushmen are reported to abstract water from hollow trunks by means of grass straws (Story, 1958).
In West Africa the hollow trunks may be used as tombs and a place where a body denied burial may be suspended between earth and sky for mummification (Cooke, 1870; Grisard, 1891; Drar, 1970; Owen, 1970; Burkill, ined.); people denied burial include poets, musicians, drummers and buffoons (Guy, 1971; Armstrong, 1977). At Grand Galarques in Senegal a hollow tree with a carved entrance was used as a meeting place (Cooke, 1870), another tree in Nigeria was used as a prison (Owen, 1970) and in Mali the 14th century traveler, Ibn Battuta reported a weaver with a loom set up in a hollow tree (Ibn Battuta, 1929).
Elsewhere in West Africa hollowed trees have been used as stables (Guy, 1971).
In East Africa the trunks may also be hollowed out to provide shelter and storage rooms (Burkill, fined.) but their more varied use occurs in southern Africa. In Rhodesia a hollow tree on the Birchenough Bridge road is used as a bus shelter, accommodating 30–40 persons (E.C. Strover, pers. comm., 1970; Guy, 1971). Another tree near Umtali is used by the Roads Department for the storage of wheelbarrows and implements, and yet another tree in the Triangle Sugar Estates is fitted with crude ladders for use as a watchtower for cane or veld fires (E.C. Strover, personal communication, 1970).
A famous tree in the Caprivi Strip at the home of Major Trollope, Administrator is used as a water closet, complete with flush toilet (D.B. Fanshawe, pers. comm. 1969; E.C. Strover, pers. comm., 1970; Guy, 1971). Near Leydsdorp in the Transvaal the hollow trunk of a baobab serves as a cool room for a tin shack beneath the canopy of the tree that is used as a bar.
c) Wood: The wood is light, 53 lb/cu ft wet, c. 13 lb/cu ft air dried (Pardy,1953). It is spongy and easily attacked by fungi; if left in water it disintegrates in about two months, producing long fibres that could be used for packing (Salmi, 1968).
The wood is not easy to cut; the spongy tissues make the axes bounce off rather than cut. It makes poor firewood and charcoal, and is not suitable for cutting into planks. The wood can be used for making wide, light canoes, wooden platters, trays, floats for fishing nets, etc.
The wood pulp has been found suitable for both wrapping and writing paper (Seabra, 1948; Carvalho, 1953) but attempts to exploit the wood for papermaking have so far failed because of the cost of extracting the moisture from the turgid tissues (Mogg, 1950).
he leaves, especially the young leaves, are popular as a spinach or dried and powdered and made into soups or sauces
The trees may be pollarded in order to encourage an abundance of young leaves; pollarding is also carried out on hollow trees used for water storage in order to prevent them becoming top-heavy and falling over. The leaves are also browsed by stock, being an especially valuable fodder for horses