A baobab flower after it had fully openend. This photograph was taken in Venda during November last year. November is the peak time when local baobab flowers bloom.

Everyone can become a Baobab Blitz scientist

Date: 15 October 2016 By: Isabel Venter

Science is not something contained inside a classroom - everybody and anybody can become a scientist.

In November, the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve (VBR) will launch the Baobab Blitz project that will offer the man in the street an opportunity to study the baobab. VBR, in association with the University of Venda (Univen), the National Research Foundation (NRF), Texas Tech University and the EcoProducts Foundation (Louis Trichardt), has set up this unique project.

Baobab Blitz is examining the pollination of baobab flowers. “Bet you thought it was bats,” say the organisers behind the project, “but did you know that scientists have never seen bats visiting baobab flowers in Southern Africa?” They have a theory, though, that hawk moths could be the true pollinator, or a combination of the moths and bats together.

By using citizen science methods, the Baobab Blitz project will turn ordinary citizens into research assistants to uncover the truth.

Baobabs have flowers that are big and white and open at night. In the case of baobabs in the eastern and western parts of Africa, bats have been known to pollinate the flowers during the course of the night. In Southern Africa, this has never been conclusively researched or proven to be true. Here in the Soutpansberg, the baobab trees flower from October to December each year. The peak flowering season is in November.

Hence, on 18 and 19 November, the project invites Soutpansberg residents to get involved. On both these two nights, participants are invited to pick their favourite baobab (either on their farm or garden) and record whatever visits the opened flowers. A good time is between 18:00 and midnight, as flowers take about an hour to open. As soon as the flower is fully open, it will degenerate quickly and, within 24 hours, will wilt if it has not been pollinated.

The project hopes to get participants from all over the district, including Vivo, Waterpoort, Musina and Mopani, involved.

To register for this project, the organisers can be contacted via e-mail ([email protected]), WhatsApp or SMS (0711 116 6967) or via Facebook (Baobab Blitz).  After registration, every participant will receive an information pack to help them record their observations.

“Get your friends and family involved!  Have a special evening under a baobab tree and help us collect the information we need to answer the question: What is pollinating baobab flowers?” invite the organisers.




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Isabel Venter

Isabel joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in 2009 as a reporter. She holds a BA Degree in Communication Sciences from the University of South Africa. Her beat is mainly crime and court reporting.


More photos... 

This photo of a hawk moth was taken by journalist Heike Pander from Germany while visiting the Soutpansberg during November of last year. Photo supplied.

A baobab flower about to open. It takes about an hour for a flower to bloom and open fully before it is ready for pollination.