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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.