The Wondrous Baobab

Last week I was in the home of a great gardener from Ballon, Co. Carlow (Stasia O’Neill, who happens to be Tom O’Neill’s mum!) and lying on the kitchen table I saw the book The Remarkable Baobab by Thomas Pakenham.

A book entirely dedicated to my favourite tree – and, coincidentally, a tree that is central to the sequel to The Butterfly Heart).

Thomas Pakenham said in the intro to his book Remarkable Trees of the World that after meeting an elephantine Baobab in South Africa it took the self control of a monk not to allow the whole book to be dominated by this tree. He let his self control go in 2004 when this book was published. I do not know how I missed it, but thank you Stasia for introducing me to it.

It is not, and nor does it pretend to be, a botanical textbook. It is a collection of photographs, stories and personal recollections of these trees in Madagascar, Africa, Australia and the Caribbean. The trees arrived in the Caribbean (as did many of the inhabitants) in the slave ships. The slaves themselves carried emergency rations in small pouches – among these were the tasty seeds of the Baobab pod.

One gripe with the book. He says in the introduction that ‘The African baobab was the first to be discovered’ and later says ‘The 21 years old French explorer and naturalist who discovered it, Michel Adanson…’

No.  This is not so. The tree may be named after Adanson (all eight species have the prefix Adansonia) but this tree was well known by people who lived in Africa and Madagascar for many centuries prior to Adanson’s visit in 1749. So, discovered is incorrect Mr. Pakenham.

Notwithstanding this,  anyone out there who loves trees (and who doesn’t?) should get themselves a copy of the book. I got mine on Amazon for tw0 quid!

2 responses to “The Wondrous Baobab

  1. As usual you sniff where resources lie! That’a wonderful, keep extending the boundary of knowledge. And you’re right, the word DISCOVERED is incorrect and shos no respect for the people who have lived for centuries with the “discovered” item, whatever it ay be: Mosi O Tunya, Mount Keenya or the mouth of the Nile River. The correct and respectable wordding should b: “ABC was the first White man to see/visi,XYZ.”


  2. Thanks Vukani! And terminology does matter, words do matter – it is how we understand one another. Especially when the words are written rather than spoken – as we have no body language to help us interpret.

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