In the seasonally arid landscape of WA’s northern Kimberley grows a tree variety not just unique in its kind but also in its contour and past usage: the humble boab. Baobab is the longer, more proper name of the Adansonia genus, containing eight species of very similar trees. Six of these occur in Madagascar, where it’s the national tree. One grows only in Africa. The remaining species grows right here in Australia, Andasonia gregorii, named for explorer Sir Augustus Charles Gregory.

Lush green leaves cover its branches during the wet, with sweet-smelling flowers scattered throughout, while its naked, twisted branches protrude during the dry. The boab also stores up to 120,000 litres of water in its trunk, giving it that distinctive swollen bottle-like appearance.

Known as the gadawon to Indigenous locals, the boab has always been of great value: its seedpods are turned into artworks; the kernels are highly nutritious raw or roasted; its leaves are medicinal; the bark becomes rope; and the gum is used as glue. Even today boab roots and leaves are used in a wide range salads, soups, cakes and pickles.

But perhaps the most fascinating feature of the boab is its hollow trunk, which police in the 1890s even used as a lock-up. Two such “prisons” are still standing outside Derby (above) and Wyndham in northern WA.

Where // Andasonia gregorii occurs in northern WA, as well as east into some parts of the NT.

Did you know? // Some boabs are believed to be more than 1500 years old. But since they don’t have rings for each year it’s impossible to tell, with some killjoy botanists arguing they don’t exceed 400 years of age.

 

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