On 8th August 2023, Dr Sarah Venter, Founder of the Baobab Foundation and a dedicated team of tree climbers spent the day at the famous Leydsdorp baobab. They were there to see what they could do to save it from a fig tree that had lodged in its’s crown. At the request of the owner of the farm and the tree guardian, David de Meyer, Dr Venter felt that as one of South Africa’s highly visited baobabs it was important to remove the fig which, if not removed could eventually strangle the baobab.
The giant baobab tree is situated close to the historic mining town of Leydsdorp. In the late 1880’s a brief gold rush to the area attracted gold-diggers from all over the world, but due to high death rates among the prospectors, mainly due to malaria, and the opening of the gold fields on the Witwatersrand, Leydsdorp was soon abandoned. All that remains today is a hotel and pub and a few abandoned buildings, but it is also the site of one of South Africa’s most visited baobabs.
The “Leydsdrop baobab” is a magnificent which tree has a girth of 19,67 meters and a height of 26 meters. It has a large hollow in the main trunk that visitors can climb into and a rickety wooden ladder that goes up the main trunk of the tree affording a view of the surrounding woodland. In 2017 Dr Patrut dated the tree to just over 1100 years old (adjusting for the loss of wood in cavity). Using carbon dating techniques, which is regarded as the most reliable form of dating, he took samples from the inside of the hollow which were analyzed at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the United States. The carbon dating also suggests that the tree would have been a similar size during the gold rush, 150 years ago.
The tree climbers lead by Petro Jacobson, the owner of Tree Top Surgeon in Louis Trichardt, and her experienced helpers Lufuno Makhari, David Sethe and Dankie Mababo climbed the tree equipped with ropes, harnesses, helmets, hand saws and a chain saws. They removed one large fig tree growing in the center of the crown and three smaller trees found on the upper branches and trunk. The roots of the larger tree had already grown over 3 meters in length and some had started to wrap themselves around the tree.
Fig trees are known to strangle other trees, eventually leading to the host tree’s death. “Even though it may have taken a very long time before the baobab succumbed the sooner it was done the better” says Dr Venter. “The larger fig tree had already embedded itself deep into the trunk and it took a lot of work to dislodge it”. The exercise was deemed to be successful and should give the baobab a few hundred years more of life.