Nothing botanical has as much charisma on the African stage as Baobab trees. At sunrise they begin the day in mauve, a difficult color in which to dress unless you have the dignity that comes from living a 1000 years or more.
As the sun rises over the winter savannah, the trees turn white-pepper pink, a hue that Chanel would have chosen for women’s business attire. The color is subtle, which is good since the trees rise out of a fringe of grass the tint of bottle-blonde hair that has turned vaguely green from spending too much time in a chlorinated pool.
For evening the trees dress in navy and gold. The unusual chromatic variety seems to be a result of the color and angle of sunlight interacting with multi-layered bark, the living part of which is dark red overlaid with a reflective veil of dead gray scale.
But it takes more than prismatic panache to make a legend. The secret of Baobab style is proportion.
A single tree can reach a height of 98 feet and grow a waist that measures between 23 and 36 feet in diameter. More than just “big boned”, the Baobab holds massive amounts of water, up to 32,000 gallons. And from this sloshing gut shoot flabby arms that taper quickly to delicate wrists and tiny fingers which semaphore dramatically at the horizon.
Unlike other families of trees in which the uniqueness of individuals is hard to discern, each member of the Baobab family has character. What makes each one so unique? Each must have a very long history that accounts for its surface and its form.
While a fashionable lady of ancient Rome applied lead white to smooth her complexion and malachite to enhance her eyes, did an elephant use the tree for dermabrasion?.
When the Crusades brought silk production to Western Europe, did a weaver bird build a nest so heavy that the trajectory of a branch was altered?
And as the waistlines of British women fell in synchrony with the decline of the Empire, did a bonfire which consecrated the meeting of Chiefs, the original governors of Africa, scorch a limb?
No one knows all that fashioned the surface and shape of a Baobab tree, but the product of this lost history has star power.