Standing in a baobab tree with my husband. It had been hallowed out many years ago by people who lived inside its trunk.

OK. I know what you're thinking, "Plants are boring". But give me a chance to prove that you're wrong because some of the plants on the Serengeti are truly fascinating. Really!

Take this upside-down tree, for example. It drops its leaves in the early autumn and stays leafless for 9 whole months. When you look at it, those bare branches look like roots, but they're growing up into the air! The real name of this tree is the baobab tree. It can grow to be 70 feet tall. That's massive! Picture Cottage Lane having 7 stories on it. That's how tall this tree is.

I did some research on baobabs. It said the fruit was really tasty. So while I was standing under a baobab I picked up a pod and looked at the fruit inside. Robert told me it was safe to eat, so I took a bite. Ugh! It tasted like I was eating sweet-sour chalk! I guess it's an acquired taste.

An ostrich amongst the baobab trees. Notice the damage on the tree trunks caused by elephants.

This next part is for Mrs. Rudin, but you can read it anyway. The baobab has some super cool adaptations. That means, over the millions of generations of baobabs, they have developed some features that allow the tree to survive so it can grow up and reproduce. For one thing, it stores water in its big trunk. This helps it survive during the dry season, but it also makes it fire-resistant so it can survive most forest fires. To conserve energy, its branches are short. But its roots are very long, sometimes hundreds of feet long, enabling them to find water.

By carbon dating, scientists have proven some baobabs to be over 3,000 years old.

That's not all! It grows a tough outer "shell" on its trunk to protect the inner trunk from the animals, like the elephants that rub against it. If the trunk does get damaged, it can re-grow the damaged part. Even if much of the tree trunk gets cut away, this plant will continue to grow. No wonder some baobabs have lived to be over 3,000 years old!

Sausage-shaped fruits hang from a sausage tree.

The sausage tree is another awesome plant. When my students were researching the Serengeti ecosystem for me, they discovered that this tree has fruit shaped like sausages! (See Student Research glogs.) Knowing this, I asked Robert to point one out to us.


Sausage fruit can be eaten by animals but is poisonous for people.

He found us this magnificent specimen. He said that the fruit was eaten by baboons, giraffes, elephants, warthogs, porcupines and others. People also use parts of the plant for herbal medicines. The flowers give off a very strong smell at night to attract the bats. They drink the nectar while pollinating the flowers. What a useful plant!

A beautiful acacia tree.

The acacias are one of my favorite trees. I guess that's because I've seen pictures of them for many years and have come to associate them with Africa. I love their triangular shape and the graceful curves of their branches. In some areas, there are acacia forests. In other areas, the trees are dotted here and there on the savanna, wherever the wind or a bird has dropped a seed.


John, the camp's night watchman, shows us a whistling thorn acacia tree.

I was surprised to learn there are many different types of acacia trees. Some do not grow very tall at all. The whistling thorn acacia is a good example. It's short, but many animals don't eat it. Why? Stinging ants! The ants burrow into the fruit of this tree. They eat the fruit, drink the juice, and live inside the pod. On their way in, they chew a little hole into the fruit. When the wind blows through the hole it whistles.

Fruit of the whistling thorn acacia tree.

But here's the really neat part. The plant and the ant are interdependent. Can you guess why? You already know the ants need the plant for food and shelter. The plant needs the ants to keep from being eaten by the giraffes and elephants. These animals HATE ants (especially stinging ants). They can smell the ants inside the fruit. They can hear the plant whistle in the wind and know that the ants are inside the fruit.


Ants run out of the fruit when John disturbs the plant.

If these two warning signs aren't enough, as soon as the animal moves the tree branch, all of the ants will come pouring out of the fruit ready for battle! Don't you love it?! A whistling tree with it's own army! I told you plants weren't boring!

If you've read all the way to here, you might as well read the rest. I need to tell you about the grasses of the Serengeti habitat. When some people look at grass they fall asleep, they get so bored. When I looked at the different grasses of the Serengeti, I saw life. Life! LIFE!!!

Although there are many different ecosystems in the Serengeti area – forest, river, lake, rocky  outcrop – by far the largest is the savanna (large, flat grassy area). At one point I stood up in the truck and filmed everything around me. See the video below.


See the miles and miles of grass? Think about how its survival, and the survival of the other producers (plants), means survival for the consumers (animals) in this ecosystem. Think about food, shelter, and camouflage for predator and prey. Think about birth and death. Think about migration. It all starts with the grass, and the other producers, when you're talking about the circle of life on the Serengeti.

17 thoughts on “Plants

  1. The baboa tree looks really cool! I mean, what other tree do you know of that stores it's own water. The whistling thorn acia tree looks very interesting. Did you see the ants coming out of the tree? Would the wind make the tree move and trick the ants into coming out?

    • Yes, I love the shape of a baobab tree – very exotic! Yes, I saw the ants coming out. Somehow they’re able to tell the difference between the movement of the wind and another type of disturbance. Pretty clever, eh?

  2. There is a plant called  a fly catcher.
    It has a mouth to eat+catch fly's!
    You have probaly herd of it.
    If you have that's great!

    • Yes, you found good pictures when you were doing your research, and the information you shared helped me to appreciate the plant life more when I saw the real thing. Thanks!

    • Yes. Good point, Jennifer. The plants that couldn’t handle the months of dry hot weather have all died out and become extinct.

  3. Cool! Thats a very big tree. I have seen some of them in magazines but lucky you got to see a real one. Thats alsoprety awsome that the plant has it's own ant army. Their like plant Body Gaurds. I bet since the plants get so dry their wouldn't be room for my tadpoles and the amount of water they requir. Well I hope you find more asmazing plants.Bye!!!!

    • Hi Fiona! How are your tadpoles doing? They must be big frogs by now! Yes, during the dry months, the Serengeti area gets VERY dry. Some of the animals have to walk for days to find water to drink.

  4. You really have proved the fact that plants are not boring! The acacia tree is beautiful like something out of a   movie. It interests me that it is something so beautiful that you couldn't see around here. What was the most interesting plant you saw? Have a great trip!

    • Thanks Jackie! I guess I’d have to say the baobab was the most interesting plant I saw. Another really interesting one was the candelabra tree. Its branches and leaves grow up, making it look like the tree is holding hundreds of candles. Its sap is poisonous and will cause blistering if it gets on your skin, and blindness if it gets in your eyes. It’s a good tree to view at a distance!

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