November brought us baobabs in bloom, and what a sight it is the see these stately giants holding paper-thin, pretty, white flowers with their fingertips.
You can see from the one I’m holding in my hand that they’re about 12 cm (4.7 in) in width. They open during the late afternoon and stay open for one night. Apparently they have a sweet scent when on the tree but later emit a carrion smell, especially when they turn brown and fall after 24 hours. I smelt the fallen ones and they were indeed unpleasant!
Research has shown that they appear to be primarily pollinated by fruit bats. The large flowers are well-suited to bat pollination because they are big enough to support a bat while it laps nectar. The flowers grow on long stalks at the end of branches, where bats can reach them easily. Because few flowers are open at one time, bats must move from tree to tree, which promotes cross-pollination.
You know that feeling you get when you’re being stared at? That one where the fringe of your awareness tells you something is watching you? It’s known as your “gaze detection” system, and I find it particulary useful as a field guide when anything from a leopard to a snake might be watching me. I had that feeling out on the deck of my room, and looked up to see a fruit bat hanging from the rafters and staring at me with its big, brown, bulging eyes. I’ve never seen a bat here before, but it made perfect sense since the baobabs nearby were in bloom.