Superfruit: The Baobab

The “tree of life,” or Baobab, is the world’s largest succulent plant and is a sacred tree of Africa’s, which produces the superfruit.


| Winter 2013-2014



baobab tree

The "Tree of Life" is the world's largest succulent plant.

Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com

The Baobab tree is a dominant force on the African landscape in dry areas all over the continent including Madagascar, West Africa, and South Africa. Baobabs also grow in Australia having their seeds transported there from so many generations ago. Over the centuries with trade, Baobab seeds have traveled far and wide to various other countries that share similar climates for the Baobab to grow and to be cherished.

The Baobab can grow to be enormous. Its trunk looks almost swollen and has some of the widest tree trunks in the world, with trunk diameters averaging 23 to 36 feet. The trunk can hold up to 60,000 gallons of rainwater, an incredible resource for both man and animal in the arid climate.

One Baobab tree found in South Africa known as the “Big Baobab” has a circumference of 154 feet (47 meters), and can fit 60 people inside the trunk! How do we know? Because the locals have turned it into a bar called the Big Baobab Bar, so literally you can go enjoy a drink inside the Baobab tree! Not much different than what baobab trees do naturally, which is store massive amounts of water in their trunks to cope with seasonal droughts in arid and dry regions.   

Baobabs can grow quite tall as well, reaching heights of 16 to 98 feet, equivalent to approximately an eight-story building. Given that the Baobab tree is a succulent plant, it does not have distinct growth rings typical of hardwood trees. Baobab wood is not good for ordinary timber because it is so fibrous and spongy and is more like balsa wood than hardwood. Historian Thomas Pakenham said about the wood that “you can drive in a nail without a hammer.”

Overall, there are eight species of Adansonia, one in Africa, six in Madagascar and one in Australia. As far as historians know, the genus originated in Madagascar from where the fruits of closely related Protoboab, transported by the ocean currents, reached Australia.

Older Than the History Books

The mighty Baobab tree takes about 15 years to reach maturity and can live for 1,000 years. The leaves have five to seven finger-like leaflets, and is leafless for about 9 months of the year. The Baobab blooms at the end of the dry season. The flowers are large and heavy white, drooping down on long stalks. These beautiful flowers bloom at night and have waxy crinkled petals that surround stamens that look like powder puffs. The Baobab flowers in Madagascar are a bit more colorful with magenta and yellow hues. The Baobab flowers are pollinated at night by bats, giant hawk moths, and mouse lemurs. The bats and the moths come to feed on the sugary nectar and as they go tree to tree, they transfer the pollen. The mouse lemurs feed on the nectar and the moths, transferring the pollen on their fur, thereby pollinating the Baobabs as they travel tree to tree. 





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