Adansonia digitata, commonly known as the African baobab tree, is mostly known for its exceptional height and girth. The trunk tends to be bottle-shaped and can reach an impressive diameter of 10-14m and the tree can reach a height of 25m, the height of a 5 story building. The branches are thick, wide, and stout compared to the trunk, and can be spread evenly across the height of the tree, but are usually limited to the apex. The bark tends to be smooth, ranging in color from reddish brown to grey, with the rare exception of being rough and wrinkly like elephant skin. The flowers of Adansonia digitata are white and large, 12 cm across, have 5 petals that are hairy inside and are generally leathery; the sepals are cup-shaped and 5-cleft; the stamens divide into multiple anthers and the styles are long and 7-10 rayed. The flowers rarely have a life span of more than 24 hours and are pollinated by bats, insects, and wind (Ebert et al. 2002, Sidibe and Williams 2002). The fruits are variable in how they look, but tend to be ovoid and covered with velvety hairs; the pulp is dry and mealy, contained within a woody pericarp (Sidibe and Williams 2002). The root system of A. digitata, while shallow, spreads further than the height of the tree, contributing to its ability to survive in dry climates. The range of the shallow root system allows the trees to collect and store massive amounts of water during the heavy, but infrequent rainfalls, which they then use to photosynthesize in the trunk during the 8 months in which they are leafless. This species is found to be among the most effective trees at preventing water loss. The tree tends to grow in sandy-textured soils, but can be found on rocky hillsides or in places where there is runoff. Every part of the African baobab tree has been used by humans for multiple purposes, including medicinally and nutritionally, however it is not widely cultivated (Ebert et al. 2002).
Derivation of specific name
Adansonia digitata is native to the majority of Africa, especially in the drier, less tropical climates. It is found throughout the Sahara and in every country east and south of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but stays clear of the Mediterranean and tropical countries like Algeria and Guinea (Anonymous, 2012). It has also been naturalized in Madagascar (Tropicos.org, 2012).
Adansonia digitata is commonly found in the thorn woodlands of the African savannahs, which tend to be at low altitudes with 4-10 dry months per year. It tends to grow as solitary individuals, although can be found in small groups depending on the soil type. It is not found in areas where sand is deep and is sensitive to waterlogging and frost. All locations where the tree is found are arid or semi-arid (Anonymous, 2012). Adansonia digitata prefers slightly sandy and well-drained soil (Anonymous, 1993).
Evolution and Systematics
Even with DNA sequencing phylogenetic analysis, the determination of relationships within Adansonia is variable at best. It has been found that the genus is most closely related to Pachira and Bombax, but as to which the closest relative is has yet to be determined (Baum et al. 1998 and Baum et al. 2004). However, with chloroplast DNA analysis, it has been determined that Adansonia digitata most likely originated in West Africa and then migrated to the areas in which it is now found via natural and human-mediated dispersal (Abutaba et al. 2009).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Adansonia digitata
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Adansonia digitata
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 8
Species With Barcodes: 1
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Adansonia digitata has many uses medicinally and non-medicinally and it has been reported that every part of the tree is useful. The fruit pulp is used in multiple ways including an ingredient of drinks and ice products, dried and made into ‘milk,’ and eaten fresh. The leaves are a staple source of food in many rural parts of Africa, and the young leaves especially are used in soups or cooked and eaten like spinach. The seeds are considered a possible source of protein and are sometimes roasted and used as a coffee substitute. The bark is formed into strong fiber that is used for all sorts of textiles, while the wood is used as fuel (Ebert et al. 2002).
Adansonia digitata (baobab) is the most widespread of the Adansonia species on the African continent, found in the hot, dry savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa. It also grows, having spread secondary to cultivation, in populated areas[clarification needed]. English common names for the baobab include dead-rat tree (from the appearance of the fruits), monkey-bread tree (the soft, dry fruit is edible), upside-down tree (the sparse branches resemble roots) and cream of tartar tree (cream of tartar). This species is the baobab that Michel Adanson examined in Senegal and described to the French Academy of Sciences; Linnaeus named the genus Adansonia in his honour.
The northern limit of its distribution in Africa is associated with rainfall patterns; only on the Atlantic coast and in the Sudan does its occurrence venture naturally into the Sahel. On the Atlantic coast, this may be due to spreading after cultivation. Its occurrence is very limited in Central Africa, and it is found only in the very north of Southern Africa. In Eastern Africa, the trees grow also in shrublands and on the coast. In Angola and Namibia, the baobabs grow in woodlands, and in coastal regions, in addition to savannahs. It is also found in Dhofar region of Oman and Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula, Western Asia. This tree is also found in India, particularly in the dry regions of the country.
The trees usually grow as solitary individuals, and are large and distinctive trees on the savannah, in the scrub, and near settled areas, with some large individuals living to well over a thousand years of age. The tree bears very large, heavy, white flowers. The showy flowers are pendulous with a very large number of stamens. They carry a carrion scent and researchers have shown that they appear to be primarily pollinated by fruit bats of the subfamily Pteropodinae. The fruits are filled with pulp that dries, hardens, and falls to pieces which look like chunks of powdery, dry bread.
The specific epithet digitata refers to the fingers of a hand, which the five leaflets (typically) in each cluster bring to mind.
Food uses and nutrition
The baobab is a traditional food plant in Africa, but is little-known elsewhere. The vegetable has been suggested to have the potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development, and support sustainable land care.
The African baobab's fruit is 15 to 20 centimetres or 6 to 8 inches long. It contains 50% more calcium than spinach, is high in antioxidants, and has three times the vitamin C of an orange. It is sometimes called a superfruit. The dry pulp is either eaten fresh or dissolved in milk or water to make a refreshing drink. The leaves can be eaten as relish. Young fresh leaves are cooked in a sauce, and sometimes are dried and powdered. The powder is called lalo in Mali and sold in many village markets in Western Africa. Oil extracted by pounding the seeds can be used for cooking but this is not widespread. In Sudan — where the tree is called tebeldi — people make tabaldi juice by soaking and dissolving the dry pulp of the fruit, locally known as gunguleiz.
Baobab leaves are sometimes used as forage for ruminants in dry season. The oilmeal, which is a byproduct of oil extraction, can also be used as animal feed.
Prominent specimens and protection
- Glencoe Baobab near Hoedspruit, South Africa
- Ombalantu baobab tree in Outapi, northern Namibia
- Sagole Baobab near Tshipise, South Africa
- Sunland Baobab near Modjadjiskloof, South Africa
- the Toilet Tree in Katima Mulilo, Namibia
- "Adansonia digitata:Plant Database of India". Retrieved 2011-03-21.[dead link]
- Varmah, J. C.; Vaid, K. M. (1978). "Baobab - the historic African tree at Allahbad". Indian Forester 104 (7): 461–464.
- National Research Council (January 25, 2008). "Baobab". Lost Crops of Africa: Volume III: Fruits. Lost Crops of Africa 3. National Academies Press. ISBN 978-0-309-10596-5. Retrieved July 15, 2008.
- National Research Council (October 27, 2006). "Baobab". Lost Crops of Africa: Volume II: Vegetables. Lost Crops of Africa 2. National Academies Press. ISBN 978-0-309-10333-6. Retrieved July 15, 2008.
- Claire Soares 2008. The tree of life (and its super fruit), The Independent, Thursday, 17 July 2008
- Sidibe, M.; Williams, J. T. (2002). Baobab - Adansonia digitata. Southampton, UK: International Centre for Underutilised Crops. ISBN 0854327762.
- "Baobab (Adansonia digitata L.): a Review on a Multipurpose Tree with Promising Future in the Sudan". Gartenbauwissenschaft. April 2002.
- "Baobab dried fruit pulp". Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes. 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-06-03.
- Laura M. Tarantino (July 25, 2009). "Agency Response Letter GRAS Notice No. GRN 000273". FDA.
- Heuzé, V.; Tran, G.; Bastianelli, D.; Archimède, H. (January 25, 2013). "African baobab (Adansonia digitata)". Feedipedia.org. A programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. Retrieved February 6, 2013.
- "Protected Trees". Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, Republic of South Africa. 3 May 2013.
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- Description and cultural information
- Structured description
- PROTAbase on Adansonia digitata
- Feedipedia on Adansonia digitata
- Adansonia digitata in Brunken, U., Schmidt, M., Dressler, S., Janssen, T., Thiombiano, A. & Zizka, G. 2008. West African plants - A Photo Guide. www.westafricanplants.senckenberg.de.
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