Common Name: Baobab [L: Adansonia Digitata]
H: Kalpa Vraksh, Gorakh Imli, Bhutai Imli; M: Goraksha Chinch
Source: nursery stock
Informal Upright/Broom Style
One of the most fascinating trees of the world is the baobab which is characterized by a gigantically thick trunk with a dis-proportionately short height and a huge spread of branches normally in the broom pattern. The tree originated from Africa. It is said that in its native continent some very gigantic trees can be seen even today. This can be readily believed if you will ever go to Mandu, Madhya Pradesh – tree after giant tree stand along the road side like giant sentinels, but definitely much younger than their counterparts in Africa. The trunk of the baobab from Mandu that you see in the accompanying photograph can contain a small house of about a 1000 sq. feet; yet the seed is as small as a pea. It is said that the Siddi traders from Africa brought these trees or rather their seeds and planted them in India at some of these places in the olden days.
(Pic of a Baobab along the road to Mandu, Madhya Pradesh, India)
Some say that the tree fulfills all the attributes of the ‘Kalpa vriksha’ of the Indian mythology and legend – it is long lived, practically impossible to kill, so hardy that it can re-juvenate even after it is burned down to the ground; all the parts of the tree have some use – its leaves were used as papyrus or paper; its bark can be used as a coarse cloth of a kind; the white pulp of its fruit is slightly sour and acerbate but edible and is used for making curry and sherbet; the seeds can be dried, powdered and cooked and is eaten especially during famines or food shortages (in fact monkeys are so fond of its fruit that the tree is also known as the monkey-bread tree) and its gigantic trunk are lived in and are used as silos to store water or grain in some places.
Now, if you take a look at the baobab, you will notice that due to the abrupt thickness of its trunk, the tree appears to be inverted or upside down – its roots in the air and the trunk sunk in the ground – exactly like the description of Kalpa Vriksha (Urdhwa moolam adhah shakham). Taken together with its attributes of multi-use and longevity, it is no wonder that the tree is called the “Kalpa Vriksha” in folk lore.
There is an interesting African legend about why the tree appears to be upside down. The tree was originally in the Heaven in the mansion of God. There it complained of boredom; God therefore shifted it to the Congo river basin where the tree complained about the wetness at its feet; God then relocated it in the Ruvenzori plains where it again complained about the hot sunshine. Angered with its constant grumbling, God banished the tree from Heaven and threw it down on Earth where it landed upside down in the arid desert of Africa. Interesting isn’t it?
Stage 1: First bonsai pot in 2000
This specie is hard to come by in nurseries in cities, as being a forest variety, it is not easily available. I was fortunate to obtain a few saplings of baobab from a couple of nurseries outside Mumbai a long time back. At the time I am writing about, I was a novice to bonsai and there was no source of information to draw upon. Internet facility was also not available. So, much of the training of my baobabs was by trial and error. But to compensate for that was the fact that the plants of this species tend to grow naturally into a tree-like image without much effort. Nevertheless some attention is needed to see that the plant does not grow lop-sided.
I planted two of the saplings in the ground and the remaining four in poly bags. The ones in the ground grew exceedingly fast after an initial period of settling in of around one year. But after that almost every branch bolted and the trunks grew at more than double the speed of those I had planted in bags. Branches facing the Sun direction really grew and had to be stopped or controlled frequently.
Stage 2: 2nd Repotting 2002 (oval pot)
Stage 3: 3rd repotting 2004 (Rectangular pot)
I planted two of the baobab saplings in the ground for faster growth. I noticed while lifting them that they had grown lop-sided at the base, although one grew so vigorously that in two years, it grew about four feet tall. I was forced to give it a very hard chop leaving a stump of about one foot and was also required to delay its lifting from the ground by about one year. Characteristically, the chop I had given was also a slanting one as I did not know at the time how, if at all the tree will respond to such a drastic step. For about six months, during which I reduced its watering by about half and controlled it further by watering it on alternate days, the plant did not show ant signs of regrowth. I was delighted, therefore, to find that in spring the following year, the plant was sprouting out at some points. This was all to the good and for the entire year I allowed the new leader to grow unchecked.
Stage 4: 4th repotting 2012 (Flat Oval pot)
After two more years, the leader had grown sufficiently thick for me to consider establishing branch locations, as the tree was growing branches all round in good vigour. In 2007 I established the trees’ branch silhouette and repotted it in a rectangular pot. It enhanced the trees’ image as it sat higher in the pot and seemed to be taller than in the previous pot. Over the next two years, I have developed the leader further in order to induce cicatrisation because the chop given earlier had left a scar so big you could put your fist in. But over the period the scar healed rather well and the cambium also rolled in properly. The branches were a two-fold problem: one was to grow them a desired locations and the other was that they grew so thick at some points, I was required to keep on trimming and redesigning them yearly. Several times, the branches were required to be shortened as in the limited growing season they had, they grew rather vigorously. Also all the trimming had to be timely in order to prevent the branches from bolting and over-thickening.
Stage 5: 5th repotting (flat round)
All problems notwithstanding, the tree showed good development and branched prolifically so doing away with over-thick branches was not a problem. The roots are a feature that enhances the trees’ looks.
I simply love this tree. I plan to spend more time on this tree and feel that it will look better in a flatter pot; but that is a future project and another story………..