Baobab à Mohéli

Désiré Charnay French

Not on view

Strange. Bizarre. Exuberant. Extraordinary. Vigorous. Désiré Charnay didn’t lack words to describe the exotic vegetation he encountered on his 1863 expedition to Madagascar and the Comoro Islands; the pictures he made of several native trees—veritable portraits that suggest individual personalities—are equally expressive. He was particularly captivated by the giant baobab trees on the island of Mohéli (or Mwali) and compared their “majestic trunks” to pyramids rising from the tiny island. He identified the latanier (more likely a Bismarck palm) as the source of local industry: the Malagasy people were known for intricate mats braided from the plant’s leaves. Charnay recounted these details in his memoir about the trip, “A Bird’s Eye View of Madagascar,” which was published in the periodical Le Tour du Monde in 1864. The baobab and palm trees, along with a fougère arborescente, or fern tree, were illustrated in the article by wood engravings based on his photographs.

Baobab à Mohéli, Désiré Charnay (French, 1828–1915), Albumen silver print from glass negative

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