Is the calabash tree going extinct in Nigeria?
There is no doubt that Nigeria as a country is blessed with a wide variety of plants and animals, no thanks to the climate that favours the growth of the majority of the species. However, the rapidly multiplying population of the country coupled with growing poverty and the insincerity of the government to put effective policies in place to curb the abuse and over-extortion of the country's resources has led to the disappearance of many species that otherwise could have been a major heritage for both the present and the coming generations.
Growing up, one of the few trees that use to catch my fancies is the calabash tree, scientifically known as Crescentia cujete. The tree was fairly widely distributed in the Southwestern part of Nigeria back then, so much so that it is often seen in front of buildings where they are planted primarily for their ornamental and shade-producing characteristics. I and my peers use to play under its shade with so much fun back in those days.
Apart from the ornamental and shade-forming abilities, the plant produces what is locally known as 'igba', and commonly known as a calabash. While calabash literally refers to a kind of fruit produced by the tree, what is locally known as calabash is a processed version of the fruit. The fruit is usually big and green in colour with hollow, sap-filled inner and outer rind or pericarp. The fruit is usually cut into two halves, the content emptied to make hollow containers after flaming. Such containers are usually used as drinking vessels or beaded for ornamental purposes.
The tree has been reported to sometimes grow as high as 10 m, however, throughout my growing up experience, I have never seen it growing beyond a few meters tall so much so that one can easily pluck the green fruits with very little effort without the need for climbing. In some parts of Southwestern Nigeria, Oyo state to be precise, the people are known for the carving of calabash.
Of course, there are some other species in the genus Crescentia that also produce fruits that are similar, albeit with some modifications, to that of C. cujete. Other species within the genus include C. alata and C. portoricensis. Some parts of Northern Nigeria are known for beautifying varied versions of the fruit primarily for decorative purposes. Various tissues of the plant have been reported to be of medicinal benefits to the locals as well.
Unfortunately, as useful as the C. cujete tree is to the locals, it has become a rare plant in the Southwestern parts of the country. Even those whose primary craft is to carve calabash seem to have abandoned the trade and have sought their means of livelihood somewhere else. Just like many other trees, most of the known stands of C. cujete have been removed and only recently did I stumbled on one a bit far away from the city.
For a tree that used to be virtually everywhere in the city in the early 90s, it is kind of strange to see it becoming very rare. Just like many other species of plants and animals. it may seem that the calabash tree is also going into extinction.
Below is an image of a decorated calabash by vanguard Nigeria
Thank you all for reading.