The sun approaches the horizon after a very eventful day. We enjoyed a good dinner and climb into the SUV of Sarah Venter. Again, we rumble along a bumpy dirt road. Venter has a special surprise in store for us.
She parks the car. We cover the last few meters on foot and walk towards the sunset – carefully avoiding the legacies of cows and goats. Ahead of us lies a fantastic collection of ancient baobabs. That’s our goal.
Perfect Event for Sundowner
A perfect place for the beloved tradition of “Sundowners” in southern Africa. We unload comfortable folding chairs from the vehicle and set them up under the baobabs. Armed with beverages we position ourselves.
The baobabs are full of flower buds. They – as later are the fruit – are attached to strings and hang from the branches like pendulums. Shortly before the buds open they are slightly larger than golf balls. Some of them are more than ready and will open today. The ones about to open show it by a gap at the bottom of the green flower bud cover. It appears during early afternoon.
It is hard to believe: one can actually observe how the gap opens. We are still conveniently seated in a row underneath the baobabs and stare at the flowers. In slow motion, the cracks grow bigger. The white of the baobab flowers is slightly visible.
Patience Pays Off
The flower petals are still neatly folded into their green cover. Even some of the insects seem to be aware that something happens with the buds. Again and again hawkmoth, a nocturnal butterfly, passes by to check on the condition of the buds.
Meanwhile, the sun has disappeared and our sundowners are empty. The sounds of the night envelop us. We have been waiting for the miracle to happen for more than an hour as something hits me at the back of my head. A hawkmoth has lost track. From the corner of my eye I see how the insect staggers to get back on track towards one of the buds.
Ready for the Silent Final
The tree determines when the flowers are ready to open. They do so in unison. We are nearly there – the green shells are almost completely open. I choose a flower and set up my chair directly underneath it. I stare at the flower bud and hardly dare to blink.
Suddenly it happens: it takes mere seconds for the flower to unfold the white petals – almost as if you open an umbrella. Incredible! The wrinkles disappear, the petals shine, still moist. They are not even dry yet, as the first hawkmoths approach them in search of nectar.
Hundreds of Baobab Flowers – Spectacular!
Hundreds of baobab flowers can open on a large tree in just one evening. Their beauty lasts for only one single night. At the place where we are tonight we mostly see hawkmoth approaching the flowers for pollination. In other places bats, bush babies or nocturnal insects take over pollination.
A flower is ready to be fertilized for about 12 to 18 hours during the night. The following morning the white petals wilt and fall off. Eagerly awaited by hopeful goats and cattle. For them, the withered leaves are an easily accessible feast.
Around noon nothing is left of the spectacle we saw last night. In the evening, the same story repeats itself until the end of the flowering season roughly four weeks later. The fruit develop slowly.
In the area of Venda the baobabs start at about mid-month in November with their flowering business which usually is during the rainy season in the South African summer. Baobabs sprout their leaves shortly before or with the onset of the rainy season. Flowering starts a little later.