Can a tree really be described as fat? I’m not sure. Big boned, perhaps, if we’re talking about the trunk and branches. Anyway, it’s not uncommon for trees to get a bit chunky around the middle but baobabs may be the fattest of all. These amazing trees are fire resistant, grow a super-fruit and can store up to 120,000 litres of water. They also look really, really silly.
Baobab. Even the name sounds a bit fat. I’m all for hugging trees (both metaphorically and literally) but it’d be a bit of challenge to get your arms around one of these baoblobs. The trees can have diameters of between 7 and 11 metres, with rare examples being even bigger. Before splitting in two in 2009, Africa’s chubbiest tree was the Glencoe Baobab with a belt-busting 47 metre circumference. That’s more than just fat; the tree was so obese it’s a surprise Channel 5 didn’t make a documentary about it.
As baobabs age, their trunk becomes hollow and this space has a variety of uses. In Sudan, for example, the trees are used to store rainwater to help people get through the dry season. In South Africa, they have used a huge baobab to tackle a different kind of drought – by cutting a doorway and building a pub inside. The Sunland Big Baobab is only 10.64 metres across, but (according to the tree’s website), the pub has held a party for 60 people. This may sound like it would be unpleasantly crowded, but it’s nothing compared to Christmas Eve in a Wetherspoons.
Sunland’s Baobab is a pub like any other, complete with draft beer, wine cellar and music system. There’s also a dartboard, which seems a bit risky given that the pub walls are alive. Having said that, the tree is over 1,000 years old and has been on fire several times so it can probably cope with a few stray arrows. The only thing preventing the Big Baobab from being the perfect venue for an evening out is the number of tree-based puns that drinkers must surely endure; “Wood you like another pint?”, “Tree packets of crisps, please”, “Leaf it, Gaz, he’s not worth it.”
Baobabs are sometimes called upside-down trees (because of their appearance), bottle trees (because of their appearance) or dead rat trees (because of their fruit). Despite the unappetising nickname (which, fortunately, refers to how the fruit grows rather than its taste), these nutritious fruits are increasing in popularity. Although looking like little more than a bald coconut, they have more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk and are a good source of antioxidants. They can also help promote good bacteria in your gut which, as I learnt from a yoghurt advert, is something absolutely vital.
Health-conscious people across Europe are adding baobab fruit to their diet. Slightly less health-conscious people across Japan are adding Pepsi Baobab to their diet. The target market for Pepsi Baobab isn’t really clear but, seeing as other Japanese Pepsi varieties include strawberry milk, cucumber and adzuki bean, flavouring one with baobab fruit is a relatively mainstream choice.
It seems surprising that Australia, given the country’s history, would ever find itself short of prison space, yet there are two separate baobabs in Western Australia – one in Derby and one in Wyndham – that have been used for locking up criminals. This sounds slightly inhumane but, rather than being some bizarre, Wicker-Man-esque punishment, the hollow trees were only used as an overnight cell for prisoners being transported to trial.
Fingers crossed I’ll never have to go to prison but, if I am ever (falsely) accused of a violent assault against a work colleague, I hope I’m imprisoned inside a baobab. It might even be fun – instead of socialising with other criminals, I could pretend I was simply living in a tree like Robin Hood and his merry men. It would certainly be more fun than just sitting alone in a normal, concrete cell, with nothing for entertainment but my memories (and an adventure story from the prison library).