Giant Boab Trees of the Kimberley Region in Western Australia
The Iconic Boab Tree
Giant boab trees (Adansonia gregorii) are found in the remote Kimberley region in the northern part of Western Australia. These trees are one of the oldest living things in Australia and in the rest of the world. Other names for the boab are baobab, boaboa, tabaldi, bottle tree, upside-down tree, and monkey bread tree. There are eight species of boabs in the world: one native species in Australia, another native species in Africa, and the remaining six native species in Madagascar.
Some of the boab trees have been around for over 1500 years old. They grow rather slowly but can reach a height of over 15 metres. They have large and smooth, bulbous trunks with girths that measure up to 20 metres. Boabs grow in well-drained sandy soil. They do require plenty of water and sunshine in summer in order to bear fruits. The Australian Aboriginal people used the trees for shelter, and parts of the plant for food and medicine. When the Europeans arrived in Australia centuries ago, these early settlers used the boab trees as landmarks and prison cells.
Where Is Kimberley?
Boab trees lose their leaves and become dormant in winter ie. during the dry season as they are deciduous trees. The leaves grow back in spring when the wet season arrives. Fragrant white flowers will start to appear by November. The flowers stay open for only a couple of days before they fall and oval-shaped boab fruits will start to form.
The ripened boab fruits are covered with a layer of brownish fine hair. Beneath the brown fuzz is a dark brown boab nut that contains white pulp with kidney-shaped seeds. The pulp and seeds are edible. The leaves can be eaten fresh, or used in powder form as an ingredient or thickener for cooking.
The aborigines used the leaves for medicine. Other parts of the tree, like the tap roots of young boab trees are also edible. The fibrous bark of the tree can used for fuel, dye and making ropes.
Aboriginal artists use the boab fruits for their artwork - for paintings and carvings. The boab fruits are harvested from the tree when they are dry, just before they fall. If the fruits fall to the ground, they are most likely to crack open and scatter the seeds everywhere. Like most indigenous artworks, one can find paintings and carvings of native animals and outback landscapes on the boab art pieces that are worn as ornaments or sold as souvenirs.
There are two famous boab prison trees, one near Derby on the west coast called Boab Prison Tree and the other one near Wyndham east of Kimberley called Hillgrove Lockup (also known as Wyndham Prison Tree). Both the boab trees are believed to be over 1500 years old, and they have large hollow trunks that measure over 14 metres in circumferences.
There is a door on the side of the tree where an opening had been cut into the tree. The Wyndham Prison Tree has a floor space of 100 square feet and is said to have accommodated up to thirty prisoners at a time. The boab prison cells were believed to be used as an overnight stop in the 1890s by the local police to lock up Aboriginal prisoners who were awaiting sentencing.
These iconic trees are of cultural significant to the indigenous people and have been fenced to prevent vandalism. The boab prison trees are now tourist attractions in the region and visitors can get a glimpse of the trees when they visit the Kimberley area.
Gija Jumulu: The Giant Boab Tree
When the Great Northern Highway was under construction, the 750-year-old Giant Boab Tree had to be relocated. The local Indigenous people (called the Gija) decided to give the giant tree as a gift to the Western Australian people. After a traditional farewell ceremony performed by the indigenous elders on 14 July 2008, the giant tree was allowed to leave Warmun in the Kimberley and it was on its way to the big city, a journey by road that took about six days. People came to cheer and see the Gija Jumulu as it travelled through the country towns on its journey to Perth.
The 36-tonne tree was officially planted in Kings Park on 20 July 2008. It stands at 14 metres high and has a trunk of 2.5 metres in diameter. There are also 14 other smaller boab trees in the Kings Park area.
How to Grow a Boab at Home
You can grow boabs from seeds. To germinate the seeds, they are required to be soaked overnight in hot water. Plant the seeds in well-drained potting mix in a pot. Keep the potting mix moist but not waterlogged. Leave the pot in a warm place with indirect sunlight.
The seeds can take several months to germinate. When the seedlings appear, let them grow to a height of several inches with at least four to six leaves before transplanting them to individual pots.
Boabs are popularly sold as bonsai plants in the nurseries. Their seeds and plants are also available online from eBay and Amazon.com.
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