“Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky.”
– Kahlil Gibran
Safari is best known for getting you extremely close with things that roar. You travel halfway across the world just for safari because it soars and cackles and howls. Safari is all about stripes and spots, scales and feathers. Safari is defined as witnessing a planet fully alive and wild.
But what about the other, quieter life forms that exist in the Serengeti, those that may not roar or travel in packs or migrate in the millions? What if I told you there were equally impressive (and far older!) life forms in the Serengeti that have been watching over the savannah for millions of years? Any guesses?
Introducing the mighty trees of Tanzania.
Why it’s Essential to Know the Trees on Safari…
Without Africa’s mighty flora, your safari would look a whole lot different. For example, giraffes depend on browsing from endless acacia treetops. Monkeys and birds find refuge perched in the canopy, away from predators and midday heat. Trees offer a vertical advantage of sight for many animals on the hunt.
This verticality afforded by Africa’s many tree species provides critical habitat for your safari’s most famous creatures. It’s because of this that we think it’s critical for you to familiarize yourself with a few of the most common (and fascinating) trees you will see on safari. If you only learn a few of them, let it be the following three: Baobab, Acacia, and Kigelia.
1 – Baobab
Say it three times: Bay-Oh-Bob. Good! You’re halfway there. The Baobab is a crowd favorite on safari and for good reason. These ancient, swollen trees are absolute icons of the savannah. They just look wise, so wise that they have been depicted in movies like The Lion King and Avatar. How is that for a resume?
Baobab trees have been nicknamed “The Tree of Life,” because, for millenia, tribes, animals, and birds all tended to congregate around these bulbous elders, while using their branches as shade, and the fruit for dyes and vitamin-rich supplements. Here are some stats:
- Official name: Adansonia digitata. 9 species total: 6 native to Madagascar, 2 native to mainland Africa, 1 native to Australia. Baobab trees grow in over 30 African countries.
- Size: 40-70 feet (12-20m) tall, trunk 35-60 feet (10-18m) diameter trunk.
- Average Age: Baobab trees live for 1,000-2,000 years (the oldest alleged is the sunland baobab in South Africa, said to be 6,000 years old, though this number is both unofficial and unlikely. What is official, however, is the bar that’s carved into its base). (Source)
Baobabs are Water Hoards. Baobabs look swollen in their base because they are hiding something valuable. Water! These mammoth trees store upwards of 120,000 liters (32,000 gallons) of water in their trunks, banking each sip for long, dry months and drought conditions.
Baobabs Empower Women. Baobab fruit is considered a superfood. The size of a coconut, their uses are many. Rich in Vitamin C and an antimicrobial/antioxidant, these fruits have been used for eons to promote healthy gut flora and digestion. Think 10 times the Vitamin C of an orange and 10 times the fiber of an apple! (Source)
Because of their recent rise as a superfood, such popularity worldwide for the baobab has translated to positive effects on African women who primarily harvest this fruit. More income, more opportunities, more empowerment and self-determination. We support that. (Source)
2 – Acacia
Acacias might be the most iconic tree in Africa. You know these ones, even if you’ve never seen an acacia in person. Imagine the sun setting and these flat-topped trees stand like umbrellas among the savannah. Because you will witness a ton of acacia trees on safari, we recommend first familiarizing yourself with them:
- Official name: Acacia tortillis (Umbrella Thorn, one of the most widely distributed acacias on the planet). Acacias are actually a genus of 160 different species of trees and shrubs in the pea family. They are called “wattles” in Australia.
- Size: Your typical acacia will grow to around 40 feet (12m), with some as large as 70 feet (21m) and about 3 feet (1m) in diameter.
Acacias Can Communicate to Each Other. Without a doubt: trees harbor plant intelligence, and acacias might be the Einstein of the tree world. When browsing animals like giraffes approach an acacia crown, for example, that tree will release tannins that are toxic. As this poison increases in the tree, a chemical called ethylene is released, a sort of chemical defense system that can travel up to 45m, warning other nearby acacias of oncoming feeders. Amazing, right?!
Acacias Used for Just About Everything. The tannins in acacia bark have long been used for dying. Their timber is widely harvested for fenceposts and firewood, too.
3 – Kigelia (“The Sausage Tree”)
If acacias are the most widely dispersed tree on the savannah, the kigelia tree might be the strangest. Popularly known as the “sausage tree,” you’ll quickly learn why. Hanging from the kigelia’s branches are fruits up to two feet long, weigh 15 pounds, and oddly resemble bratwurst.
- Official name: Kigelia africana. There’s only one species, distributed throughout tropical Africa.
- Size: Can grow up to 20m (66 feet). Can be evergreen in wet areas and deciduous in long, dry areas.
- Traditional Uses: For years, tribes have used the fruit to fight infection and skin conditions, burns, etc. Recently, it’s been explored as being a central nervous system stimulant. (Source)
Fascinating Flowering: When the sausage tree flower, the tree will send long hanging clusters of maroon colored orchid-looking flowers called “pannicles.”
Enjoyed By All: The sausage-shaped, oblong fruits are enjoyed by a variety of bush animals, including baboons, bushpigs, elephants, giraffes, hippos. Eaten fresh, however, the fruit is poisonous to humans.
Whether you know the average decibel of a lion’s roar (114 decibels, 25 times louder than a lawn mower!), the proper name for a group of hippos (a “bloat”), or the chemical communication phenomena between acacia trees, the more you know before heading out on safari, the richer the experience. A little homework goes a long way in the savannah, and your Easy Travel guides will supplement your safari with natural and cultural history as well.