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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).

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© Marie Anne Rolufs, Oregon State University

Source: BOT 323 Flowering Plants of the World, Oregon State University

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