If we know who is little prince then we have certainly heard of baobabs. While the book itself is a fruit of the writer’s imagination many parts are inspired by Antone de Saint-Exupery’s real-life experiences. This, among many others, induces us to ask the question of baobabs from the little prince are real trees? The brief answer is yes – baobabs are real.
What Are Baobabs?
Baobabs are large trees with vast trunks native to Madagascar, mainland Africa, and Australia. Baobabs are also known by the name of “Upside-down tree” that originates from the myth of God’s wrath. Besides the myth, the upside-down tree ensues from the way treetop looks without leaves. When bare it resembles to root system. They are one of the most long-living trees in the whole world. Some of them grow 25m-30m in height. In Tsimanampetsotsa National Park in Madagascar two large and very old baobabs are still growing. One of them that is called Granny baobab has parts of the tree that are 1600 years old while the other one is around 1000. But the oldest baobab tree ever died in 2011 in Zimbabwe being 2450 years old. It is interesting to note that six out of nine baobab species dwell in Madagascar.
Baobabs And Flowers
Baobabs have very large flowers. Those flowers are reproductive for a maximum of 15 hours. The flowers open around dusk. They open so quickly that moving can be detected by a naked eye. However, the flowers will fade until the next morning. To make things even more interesting most baobabs are pollinated by bats. To be more precise, several species of fruit bats are the main pollinators of African baobabs. The large flowers of baobabs are suitably positioned to bat pollination because they are big and strong enough to provide support to a bat while it laps nectar. Another positive circumstance is that flowers grow on long stalks at the end of branches making them easily reachable for the bats. However, while all of this sounds appealing it is far from being an easy job for the bats. Usually, only a few of the flowers are opened per one tree so they have to fly from one tree to another which produces cross-pollination.
There is a myth about baobab flowers that says they blossom only once in 50 years. Most of the baobabs start giving flowers after ten or twenty years. And when they do start with it they blossom once a year. Depending on where the tree is growing, besides bats, baobab trees are pollinated by insects and mouse lemurs.
Myths About Baobab Trees
There are many myths surrounding Baobab trees. Most of them are bound to the African continent.
Zambia Baobab Myth
In the national park of Zambia, there is a baobab named Kondokamwale.
Baobabs are usually known as trees of life. They have the ability to hold water while their fruits provide food for elephants, birds, and humans. However, Kondokamwale baobab rumored to be 1500 years old is known to take lives as well. According to local legend, Kondokamwale took the lives of four maidens in the act of revenge.
According to myth, the tree fell in love with four girls that lived in its shades. Upon reaching puberty, soon to become women sought husbands as to the customs of their culture. The tree became jealous. It wanted to make sure that girls remain attached to it forever. So, on one stormy night, Kondokamwale opened its trunk and devoured four maidens trapping them inside for eternity.
Zimbabwe Legends of Baobabs: Upside-Down Tree
Shone tribe of Zimbabwe has their myth according to which baobabs are amongst the first plants God created. But that large miraculous tree grew vain. They started looking down on God’s other creatures such as Hyena and Zebra. It enraged God who ripped the tree outside of its soils. However, the Creator did not want the tree completely eradicated. He turned the tree upside-down and pushed it back inside the earth so it remained existing with its roots exposed.
Baobabs In The Little Prince
In the Little Prince, baobabs are presented and connected with a very bad and dangerous seed that must never be allowed to grow. As Little Prince explains baobabs are very large meaning they have very large roots. If the planet is too small those roots go straight through and lead to the explosion of the whole world. Every morning after going to his own toilet little prince focuses himself on the toilet of his little planet. Besides cleansing his three little volcanos from which might have been dead for good, he looks for sprouting seeds and attempts to tear off and throw away the ones he recognizes as baobabs. It is an easy but tedious job, the little prince says.
However, if we dive a little deeper into the symbolism we will come to the conclusion that little worlds represent people’s souls while large baobabs represent corruption that can easily overtake us if we are not disciplined in cleaning ourselves from the darkness. This approach to baobabs has a lot of common features with the Zimbabwe legend of this tree. As we have already said, baobabs were among the first plants God created. Big and tall they became vain and looked down on other beings, which is why God punished them by turning them upside down. These myths could be what inspired Exupery to take baobabs as a symbol of corruption in his little prince who told him about the planet of a lazy man who neglected bushes until they turned into trees that devour his whole world so there was nothing but roots jutting above the ground.
What makes combining the baobab’s participation in the story of creation and the little prince interesting is the fact that according to some interpretations the little prince is a symbol of Jesus. Children are pure and innocent. And at the end of the book in which the Little Prince allows the snake to bite him, he does not perceive it as death. His body is just too heavy for such a long road and he must get free of it in order to go back to where he came from. He does not even believe in death. He rather behaves as if he knows that the soul is eternal and the most important possession a man can have. It is why he has to go back to his world to his beloved flower with four thorns and guard the planet against being overtaken by sprouts of bad seeds.
The Death Of Baobabs
Over the last few decades, baobabs have started dying out. From 2005 eight of thirteen of the oldest African baobabs have partially collapsed or died. Scientists believe that reason for such a rapid increase in the death of this tree lays in climate change. This phenomenon threatens to negatively affect many lives as baobabs are used for medicine, food, shelter, and many other things people need to make their lives easier.
Luckily there are various organizations striving to save baobab trees on the continent. Global Trees Campaign is one of many. Their activities take place in collaboration with partner Madagasikara Voakajy on the territory of Madagascar. Their goal is to reduce the loss of mature baobabs and engage a range of stakeholders in replenishing their populations.