Baobab in the dry season

Adansonia digitata | PlantZAfrica


Thought to be the biggest succulent plant on this planet, the baobab tree is steeped in a wealth of mystique, legend and superstition wherever it happens in Africa. It’s a tree that may present, meals, water, shelter and reduction from illness.

Baobab in the dry season



Also known as ‘grotesque’ by some authors, the primary stem of bigger baobab timber could attain monumental proportions of as much as 28 m in girth. Though baobab timber seldom exceed a top of 25 m. The large, often squat cylindrical trunk provides rise to thick tapering branches resembling a root-system, which is why it has typically been known as the upside-down tree.

There’s a story which tells of how God planted them upside-down. Many conventional Africans consider that the baobab really grows upside-down.

The stem is roofed with a bark layer, which can be 50-100 mm thick. The bark is greyish brown and usually clean however can typically be variously folded and seamed from years of progress. The leaves are hand-sized and divided into 5-7 finger-like leaflets. Being deciduous, the leaves are dropped in the course of the winter months and seem once more in late spring or early summer season.


The massive, pendulous flowers (as much as 200 mm in diameter) are white and sweetly scented. They emerge within the late afternoon from massive spherical buds on lengthy drooping stalks, in early summer season, from October to December. The flowers fall inside 24 hours, turning brown and smelling fairly disagreeable. Pollination by fruit bats takes place at night time.


The fruit is a big, egg-shaped capsule (typically >120 mm), lined with a yellowish brown hairs. The fruit consists of a tough, woody outer shell with a dry, powdery substance inside that covers the exhausting, black, kidney-shaped seeds. The off-white, powdery substance is seemingly wealthy in ascorbic acid. It’s this white powdery substance which is soaked in water to offer a refreshing drink considerably paying homage to lemonade. This drink can also be used to deal with fevers and different complaints.

This tree is sluggish rising, primarily as a result of low rainfall it receives.

Conservation Standing


Least Concern (LC), Adansonia digitata will not be threatened.

Distribution and habitat

Distribution description

The baobab tree is present in areas of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and different tropical African international locations the place appropriate habitat happens. It’s restricted to scorching, dry woodland on stoney, properly drained soils, in frost-free areas that obtain low rainfall. In South Africa it’s discovered solely within the heat components of the Limpopo Province.

It could nonetheless be cultivated in areas of upper rainfall supplied they’re frost free and do not expertise chilly winters.

Derivation of title and historic points

Historical past

The title Adansonia was given to this tree to commemorate the French surgeon Michel Adanson (1727-1806); the species title digitata that means hand-like, is in reference to the form of the leaves.

The baobab used to belong to the household, Bombacaceae, however that is now usually thought to be a subfamily of Malvaceae. Bombacaceae is tropical with about 21 genera and 150 species. It’s host to some very attention-grabbing species. The balsa tree, Ochroma pyramidale from South America, is well-known for its exceptionally gentle wooden of 160kg/m2. The durian, Durio zibenthinus, is a well-liked and apparently scrumptious fruit from the east, which though being so tasty, has such a horrible odour that it’s banned from motels. The silk floss tree (Chorisia speciosa or Ceiba insignis) is a really broadly planted decorative tree in South Africa and is a sight to behold when it’s in full bloom with its massive, often pink flowers.

The household has quite a lot of completely different baobab-type timber, additionally of the genus Adansonia. With one species in Australia and 4 species native to Madagascar, essentially the most spectacular, A. grandidieri, reaches a staggering 40 m in top, solely bearing branches on the very prime of the tall, thick trunk. The household can also be well-known for the kapok tree, Ceiba pentandra, which is native to the equatorial rain forests of South America, Africa and India. The kapok tree has been broadly cultivated within the tropics, for the prized kapok fibre produced by the seed pods, which was used to stuff pillows amongst different makes use of.

A variety of considerably massive, historic baobab timber may be seen within the Limpopo Province:

The Sagole Baobab is recorded as being the most important tree in South Africa with a stem diameter of 10.47 m, a top of 22 m and a crown unfold of 38.2 m. It grows east of Tshipise.

The Glencoe Baobab close to Hoedspruit might be the second largest and bears a number of trunks. It has a stem diameter of 15.9 m, a top of 17 m and a crown unfold of 37.05 m. This tree has dates carved on the stem from 1893 and 1896.

The Platland Baobab that grows close to Duiwelskloof, in the present day homes a pub. It has a stem diameter of 10.64 m, a top of 19 m, and a crown unfold of 30.2 m.

The Buffesldrift Baobab which is within the Makopane District, has a definite trunk with a diameter of seven.71 m, a top of 22 m and a crown unfold of 30.2 m.

The Sunland Baobab in Modjadjiskloof was 22 m excessive, and a few 47 m in circumference, however a 3rd of it fell down in August 2016 and the remainder in April 2017.



Bats primarily pollinate the big white flowers with their ruffled petals at night time, though many alternative bugs and different creatures equivalent to birds will go to the sweetly scented flowers. The flowers, being white, are extra seen at night time and being sweetly scented additionally assist to draw all kinds of potential pollinators. The seed capsule doesn’t cut up open, as an alternative it hangs on the tree till it will get blown off by wind or will get collected by monkeys, baboons or individuals who all benefit from the mushy powdery substance that covers the seeds. The seeds should not usually eaten by animals and are discarded, thus effecting dispersal.

Makes use of


Massive baobab timber with hole stems have been utilized by folks for hundreds of years for varied functions together with homes, prisons, pubs, storage barns, and whilst bus stops! An enormous tree within the previous Transvaal area is recorded as as soon as getting used as a dairy. One other tree close to Leydsdorp was used as a bar (referred to as the Murchison Membership) and utilized by prospectors and miners in the course of the gold rush of the late 19th century. One such tree within the Caprivi Strip was transformed into a bathroom, full with a flushing system.

Rainwater typically collects within the clefts of the big branches, and vacationers and native folks typically use this useful supply of water. It has been recorded that in some instances the centre of the tree is purposely hollowed out to function a reservoir for water in the course of the wet season. One such reservoir was recorded as holding 4 546 litres of water. A gap is drilled within the trunk and a plug inserted in order that water may be simply retrieved by eradicating the plug. The roots of the baobab can be tapped for water.

African honey bees (Apis mellifera) typically make the most of hollows within the baobab to make their hives. One can typically see a ‘ladder’ of pegs hammered into the trunk which is utilized by seasonal honey harvesters to realize entry to the hives.

The leaves are mentioned to be wealthy in vitamin C, sugars, potassium tartrate, and calcium. They’re cooked recent as a vegetable or dried and crushed for later use by native folks. The sprout of a younger tree may be eaten like asparagus. The foundation of very younger timber can also be reputed to be edible. The seeds are additionally edible and can be roasted to be used as a espresso substitute. Caterpillars, which feed on the leaves, are collected and eaten by African folks as an necessary supply of protein. Wild animals eat the fallen leaves and recent leaves are mentioned to be good fodder for home animals. The fallen flowers are relished by wild animals and cattle alike. When the wooden is chewed, it offers very important moisture to alleviate thirst. People in addition to sure animals eat it in instances of drought.

There are lots of legends and superstitions surrounding the baobab tree. For instance, it’s believed that an elephant frightened the maternal ancestor of the baobab. In some components the baobab is worshipped as a logo of fertility. It’s a perception amongst sure people who spirits inhabit the flowers of the baobab and that any one that picks a flower will probably be eaten by a lion. Additionally it is believed that water during which the seeds have been soaked will provide safety in opposition to assault by crocodile, whereas sucking or consuming the seeds could appeal to crocodiles. Additionally it is believed {that a} man who drinks an infusion of the bark will grow to be sturdy. In some areas a child boy must be bathed in such a bark infusion, as this can make him sturdy; nonetheless, he shouldn’t be bathed for too lengthy or he could grow to be overweight. Additionally it is necessary that this water doesn’t contact his head for this might trigger it to swell. When inhabitants transfer from one space to a different they typically take seeds of the baobab with them, which they plant at their new homestead.

The bark on the decrease a part of the trunk typically bears scars attributable to native individuals who harvest and pound it to retrieve the sturdy fibre. The fibrous bark is used to make varied helpful gadgets equivalent to mats and ropes, fishing nets, fishing traces, sacks in addition to clothes. Though the bark is commonly closely stripped by folks and elephants, these timber don’t undergo as a traditional tree would from ringbarking. Baobabs have the flexibility to easily proceed rising and produce a brand new layer of bark. The wooden of the baobab is mushy, gentle yellow and spongy, and though it has been recorded as getting used for making containers, this doesn’t appear to be a broadly used apply.

Many references have made point out of the distinctive vitality of this tree, noting that even after your complete tree is lower down it merely resprouts from the basis and continues to develop; the identical is famous of timber which have been blown over in storms. Regardless of this outstanding vitality, when a tree dies it collapses right into a heap of soggy, fibrous pulp. Tales exist of how such shortly decomposing timber spontaneously combust and get fully wiped out.

Greater than 260 years in the past baobabs had been apparently efficiently grown in England and had reached heights of 5-6 m, however had been all destroyed within the heavy frosts of 1740. Surprisingly few baobabs have discovered their method into cultivation, presumably attributable to their fame of being exceptionally sluggish rising.

The baobab was declared a protected tree underneath the Forest Act in South Africa in 1941.

Figuring out the age of baobabs: A lot hypothesis in literature over a few years have made sure estimates of the age of sure massive timber and their fee of progress. More moderen work utilizing carbon-dating methods in addition to the examine of core samples exhibiting progress rings, counsel {that a} tree with a diameter of 10 m could also be as previous as 2000 years.

Rising Adansonia digitata


Baobabs are fairly simply grown from seed though they’re seldom out there in nurseries. Seed may be collected from dry fruits by cracking the fruit open and washing away the dry, powdery coating. The darkish brown to black, kidney-shaped seeds must be soaked in a container of scorching water and allowed to chill, they could then be sown after soaking for 24 hrs. Seeds are finest sown in spring and summer season in a well-drained seedling combination containing one-third sand.
Cowl the seed with sand to a depth of 4-6 mm, place the trays in a heat semi-shaded place and water commonly till the seeds have all germinated. Germination could take from two to 6 weeks. Seedlings must be rigorously monitored for damping off fungus, which may be handled with a fungicidal drench.

Transplant the seedlings as soon as they’re 50 mm excessive into particular person containers, ideally in a sandy soil with some well-rotted compost and bone meal. Baobabs develop moderately shortly when they’re younger.

They are going to make a good-looking addition to a big backyard, property, or massive parkland offering the soil will not be waterlogged. Baobabs can not tolerate even delicate frost.

When they’re younger, baobabs don’t resemble their grownup counterparts, the stems are skinny and inconspicuous, and their leaves are easy and never divided into the 5 to seven lobes of the grownup timber.
Saplings may be successfully grown in containers or tubs for a few years earlier than turning into too massive and requiring to be planted into the bottom. On this method one can transfer them out of the chilly right into a heat place in a glasshouse or indoors behind a sunny window to stop frost injury.


  • Coates Palgrave, Okay.; P. & M. 1985. Everybody’s information to timber of South Africa. Struik, Cape City.
  • Esterhuyse, N., Von Breitenbach, J. & Söhnge, H. 2001. Exceptional timber of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds) 2003. Crops of southern Africa: an annotated guidelines. Strelitzia 14. Nationwide Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Kubitzki, Okay & Bayer, C. 2003. The households and genera of vascular vegetation, vol. 5. Springer, Heidelberg.
  • Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Bushes of southern Africa, vol. 2. Balkema, Cape City.
  • Venter, F. & Venter, J. 1985. Taking advantage of indigenous timber. Briza Publications, Pretoria.


Andrew Hankey
Walter Sisulu Nationwide Botanical Backyard
February 2004, up to date 2017

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