Excerpt from Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa: “grotesque, comparatively short, deciduous trees with hugely swollen trunk: occurring at low altitudes in hot dry bushveld”. Grotesque? Webster defines grotesque as being distorted or unnatural in shape; abnormal and hideous; ludicrously odd. All of those meanings seem to invoke a negative connotation. To me, the baobab is a tree to be admired.
Baobabs are often referred to as the “upside down tree” because the branches, when leafless during winter dormancy, look like roots up top. Baobab bark is smooth and fibrous making it a favorite food of elephants. Elephants are infamous for knocking trees over so that bark, branches, and leaves are easier to access. Driving near Mapula Lodge in the Okavango Delta of Botswana, baobabs are not a common site across the landscape. Up close to the trees, you can see clear evidence of elephant damage, but the baobab perseveres, living on, in spite of obvious damage. Enduring, withstanding, imposing – those descriptors seem more appropriate than grotesque for the baobab. Or better yet, how about strong?