Baobab and “Ae Ae” Banana

Baobab and  “Ae Ae” Banana

As we enter the dog days of summer, I find myself pondering longevity and the cycles of time.  This includes our short-term concerns and deadlines, but also the longer arc of time that when taken in context provides some much needed perspective.  Two things brought this to the front of my mind.  First, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend some time in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, where it is impossible to ignore the arc of time while tromping over mountains formed hundreds of millions of years ago.  Second, I have been captivated by the prolific bloom on our awesome Baobab tree (Adansonia digitata).  This ties in because the oldest Baobabs can live up to 2500 years, which means the oldest one scientists have found and tested was likely a seedling when Cleopatra ruled ancient Egypt, and the Tequesta and Calusa populated Florida.

The beautiful Baobabs at the park are comparatively young, but still old enough to flower.  The trees are striking, with broad branches and a trunk that can reach up to forty feet in diameter.   Also known as the “tree of life”, these beauties supply food and shelter to humans and wildlife alike.  The leaves and fruits are highly nutritious, and the trunks have been known to be hollowed out to become homes or shops on the African savannah.   One of the functions of the enormous trunk of the Baobab is water storage.  Their native environment receives adequate rainfall, but with long periods in between.  The ability to store water internally is essential to success in such a variable environment.  Another benefit of the huge, smooth trunk is its extreme huggability!  We regularly stop on our guided tours and invite guests to be a “tree-hugger”.  Legend has it that the Baobabs grow a little bit bigger and stronger with each hug.  I think the benefit goes both ways.

Another good reason to visit the Fruit and Spice Park this month is to witness the rare “Ae Ae” banana (Musa x paradisiaca) setting its beautiful striped fruit.  This is a variegated variety of Musa with striking, irregular, green and white stripes on both foliage and fruit.  It has been said that once upon a time, only Hawaiian royalty were allowed to possess this rare and valuable fruit under penalty of death.  Since the banana is not native to Hawaii, it must have been introduced by ancient Polynesian explorers in a time before memory, somewhere in the mists of time.  The fruit produced by this variety can be enjoyed fresh out of hand, or cooked in your favorite recipe.

Both the Banana and the Baobab provide beauty and sustenance to man and beast alike.  They can also provide an allegory for our own lives if we will only pay attention.  Think about the life cycle of the banana, where the main stem grows from a large root, or corm, underground.  It grows tall and matures, sending out a flower stalk that sets a variable number of fruit.  Then, once the fruit is mature, that stem dies, but not before replacements spring up from the same underground corm to take its place.  The long lived Baobab seems to provide more than it takes, happy to share its fruit, leaves and shade with those who seek shelter.

May we take a lesson from these specimens—whether you have moved across the world, or never moved an inch, make the world a more beautiful and fruitful place, giving more than you take.