The Penang Baobab Tree

The Baobab Tree of Penang is believed to be the oldest planted tree in Malaysia, and one of the most unusual-looking trees in Penang.

There are plenty of heritage trees in Penang, but the Baobab is a grand dame in a class of its own. It stands on the traffic island between Jalan Residensi and Jalan Macalister, in its own picket-fence compound.

Although it appears very elderly and frail, and even require crutches to stay up, all effort is taken to keep it standing.

There is a Penang belief that the baobab tree brings luck to the island, and must be kept standing by all means, or else calamity will fall on Penang. A more colourful twist to the belief states that Penang is actually floating in the sea and the Baobab tree, with its upside-down looking trunk, actually acts as a stopper. If it is somehow uprooted, water will gush out of the hole and the whole island will sink.

A native of the semi-arid part of sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar, the baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) was planted in 1871 (making it older than the Rubber Tree of Kuala Kangsar) by Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy (better known simply as Captain Speedy), the English explorer who was hired by Perak Mentri Ngah Ibrahim to quell the restive situation in Larut.

The baobab produces green buds in spring. The buds looking like hanging tennis balls. These buds open into fragrant white flower. The oblong fruits are not pretty. They are dark brown and wizened, looking somewhat like dead rats.

It is recently (18 July 2007) reported that the Lions Club of Penang has put aside RM15,000 to beautify the traffic island where the Baobab tree stands, to turn it into a green garden. They are getting assistance from the Lion Clubs in Taiwan, Australia, Kuala Lumpur, Thailand and Singapore for this project, and when completed, the Penang Municipal Council will take over the maintenance.

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