Tree of Life -- The most iconic tree you will see in Tarangire is the baobab, its thick, silvery trunk, capable of reaching more than 15m (49 ft.) in diameter, sprouting smooth branches that look not unlike roots, hence its "upside-down tree" moniker. According to one legend, God planted the baobab tree upside down -- some say by accident, others to stop the tree from complaining.

The baobab has inspired myths and legends throughout Africa, a function not only of its strange appearance, but of the age that radiates from its massive trunk. Like all ancient life forms, it is hard to comprehend that many germinated before Christ was born, according to radiocarbon dating (though I have also heard that some reports are apocryphal, given that the baobabs have no growth rings and leave behind no fossils).

The Tree of Life, as the baobab is also aptly known, is very useful. Behaving much like a giant succulent, it can store up to 300 liters (79 gallons) of water, enabling it to live through long periods without rain. Chewing the wood is a source of moisture for humans and animals alike. This is also why the circumference of a single tree -- which can take up to 10 humans to embrace -- can vary significantly between wet and dry seasons. The trunk of mature trees is often hollow, providing living space for numerous animals and humans alike. The fire-resistant bark is used for weaving and rope, and the young leaves for condiments and medicines. It flowers only during the rainy season, and flowers last 1 day, pollinated at night by fruit bats. The fruit has a furry coating around a tough, gourdlike shell that shields a soft pulp inside called "monkey bread." The oil-rich seeds are high in citric acid and are fermented as a spice or roasted as coffee replacement.

Another tree with an interesting-shape fruit is the Sausage Tree, which occurs along the Tarangire River and its tributaries, and appears to have sausages dangling from thin stalks. The trees are beautiful when in flower from July to October, when dark-red trumpet flowers hang in long, drooping sprays from its branches, opening to release their scent at night. The sausage-shape fruit these produce -- gray-green to pale brown in color, and weighing up to 6.8kg (15 lbs.) -- grows up to 60cm (24 in.) in length and 10cm (4 in.) in diameter. Fruit falls from the trees in March and April of the following year and lies undamaged on the ground for many months. Ripe fruit is eaten by baboons, monkeys, porcupines, and bushpigs; humans find them inedible but use them to ferment beer. The skin is also ground and used externally for medicine, while the fruit is burned and the ashes pounded by a mortar with oil and water to make a paste that is then applied to the skin.

Another personal favorite is the rather unfairly named Fever Tree. Along with the flat-topped acacia, this is one Africa's most attractive thorn trees, immediately recognizable for its almost luminous lime-green to greenish-yellow bark and the bright-yellow sweetly scented flowers it produces from August or September to November. The Fever Tree grows in shallow swampy pans, where underground or surface water is present, and along the margins of lakes and on river banks. It is this accident of location that earned it the unfair fever sobriquet -- early settlers mistakenly associated the onset of malaria with the tree rather than the swampy surrounds that bred the malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

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