The science bit
Tree up to 25m tall. Trunk girth up to 25m when mature. Branches short, stout and twiggy at ends. Bark red-brown to purple-grey. Leaves simple to digitate, with up to 9 dark green and glossy leaflets but usually 5. Flower stalk (peduncle) up to 90cm long. Flowers pendulous, up to 20cm wide, white, petals rounded containing a mass of stamens (up to 1,600), often open before leaves. Fruits amphisarca, up to 20cm long, globose to ovoid, covered in felt-like downy hairs (tomentum), contain many seeds.
- Baobab trees can live for over 3,000 years. When they die, they rot inside and suddenly collapse.
- The trees resist drought, fire and termites. They regrow their bark if it is stripped.
- They are known as upside down trees because their branches look like roots.
- Some people believe that if you pick a flower from a baobab tree you will be eaten by a lion. But if you eat water in which baobab seeds have been soaked, you will be safe from a crocodile attack.
Where it grows
This baobab is native to tropical African countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique. Its natural habitat is hot, dry woodland on stony, well-drained soils, in areas that receive low rainfall. Baobabs have also been planted in India and Australia.
In Africa most parts of the baobab are eaten:
- Fruits: the pale powder that covers the black seeds inside the fruits tastes sharp and tangy, and is added to many sauces and drinks. This fruit powder is rich in Vitamin C and B2, and therefore offers health benefits, especially for pregnant women, children and the elderly, and is said to help fight fevers and settle the stomach.
- Leaves: an excellent source of protein, minerals and vitamins A and C. They are eaten fresh and also dried, milled and sieved to make a green powder that is used to flavour drinks and sauces.
- Seeds: used to thicken soups, or fermented to use as a flavouring, or roasted to be eaten as snacks.
The wood is used for fuel and timber
Although Adansonia digitata is reasonably common, many other baobab species are under threat. Out of the eight species, six are found in Madagascar, all of which are red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to habitat destruction through extensive agriculture.
- As the flowers emerge in the evening, they are pollinated by bats and nocturnal insects such as moths.
- The trunks can hold thousands of litres of water, and elephants sometimes tear the trees down to get to the moisture inside.
- Amphisarca: indehiscent fruits with many cells and seeds, pulpy flesh, and a hard rind.
- Digitate: individual leaflets arising from a common point or centre, like the fingers of a hand.
- Globose: spherical.
- Ovoid: three-dimensionally egg-shaped with broader end at base.
- Pendulous: hanging down.