The Baobab tree

July 1, 2006

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Baobab; originally uploaded to Flikr by Art Nahpro.

Museum of Dust features a lovely story about, and some great pictures of a tree I had not previously known: the Baobob tree. Uploaded by Art Nahpro, this photo was from his “mother’s old photograph albums from when she was in Ethiopia in 1947. These were probably taken by a commercial photographer during the Italian Occupation.” Mr Nahpro continues:

Baobabs (unsurprisingly) have a mystical significance in many African cultures. In Zimbabwe there are tribal peoples who use the Baobab, which is often hollow ,as a birthing tree and women give birth actually inside the tree.

In Kenya a local myth and legend was that God got angry one day and ripped up all the trees and planted them upside down. I used to wonder what God had in mind doing that but…

What I love about this plant is trying to imagine what the root structure looks like. I’m assuming it’s very similar to the crown.

Stand back imagine the whole tree out of the ground and hovering (minus the dirt) in the air. Cool eh? As earth walkers, we only see the top part of the tree, the roots are the hidden complement to the crown. Obviously, this image holds true for many trees, but the baobob tree, for me, really accentuates the beautiful symmetry.

For those more mathematically gifted than I, Pablo Funes’s Brandeis dissertation includes an amusing lego tree in his section on symmetry, branching and modularity. Funes writes:

The tree experiment was designed to test out whether some characteristics of natural trees (branching, symmetry) could evolve as a consequence of the environment. The design of a tree in nature is a product of conflicting objectives: maximizing the exposure to light while keeping internal stability.

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Photo by Pablo Funes.

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