‘I heard a thundering crack and I knew what happened,’ Heather van Heerden, owner of the Sunland Farm told the Herald where the tree collapsed last Thursday.
According to Van Heerden, sources say the main cause of the tree’s split and collapse is its age – dated at over 1100 years old – along with the natural Baobab tendency of hollowing out its trunk as it ages.
The owners, Heather and her husband, Doug van Heerden state that they intend to leave the trunk section exactly where it fell, allowing nature to take its course in reshaping and assimilating the feature.
In 2009, a task team from the Department of Chemistry, Babes-Bolyai University of Romania, funded by a grant from the Romanian National University Resaearch Council and the US National Science Foundation,
estimated the age of the Big Baobab (the Sunland Baobab) to be around 6 000 years.
Due to the location of the Sunland Baobab, the lack of documentation relating to the area, and the varying growth speeds of baobabs, the size–age relation cannot be used for estimating accurately the age of African baobabs.
For large trees without a continuous sequence of growth rings in their trunk, such as the African baobab (Adansonia digitata L.), the only accurate method for age determination is radiocarbon dating.
However, this method was limited to dating samples collected from the remains of dead specimens. Collecting from a live specimen was a new challenge and led to inaccuracy in results.
Although the Big Baobab’s more recent history could be estimated at over 1 700 years old with radio carbon dating!
Sunland’s Baobab is 22 meters high, and is some 47 meters in circumference. It is still (and is likely to remain so) “the record holder for the species”, according to the SA Dendrological Society.
In 1993 the Van Heerdens cleared out the hollow centre of the tree, removing masses of compost build up to uncover the floor about a meter below ground level.
In the process they found evidence of both the Bushmen and Voortrekkers, attesting to the historical importance of the tree.
They squared off a natural vent in the trunk to make a door and installed a railway sleeper pub inside the trunk, complete with draft beer, seats and a music system. One party had 60 people inside the tree bar! A wine cellar was installed in a second hollow, with a constant temperature of 22° C, ventilated by natural vents.
The tree blooms gloriously in spring. It is home to many bird species, including two pairs of owls.