Thomas Pakenham’s fine new book, In Search of Remarkable Trees: On Safari in Southern Africa, is, like his others, essentially a Book of Marvels. He’s chosen some 100 of South Africa’s (and Madagascar’s) most spectacular trees – baobab, kokerboom, sausage tree, pod mahogany, fever tree, and so on – and illustrated each with photographs, sundry arboreal information and safari anecdotes. It’s a beguiling mixture. He’s especially good at wood uses. In a previous book we learned that the outer shell of the baobab is used for castanets. Now we find that it was up a sycamore fig that Zaccheus the publican climbed to see Jesus pass through Jericho; that the same wood was used for mummy cases; that lucky charms are made from the shiny red seeds of the coral tree.
He has a good eye and ear. I enjoyed his description of a lion considering him for a meal as having a face ‘like a cross between that of Paul Kruger … and the famous oval radiator of a Bugatti’. Did that come to him in the presence of the