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Of the nine species, six are native to Madagascar, two are native to mainland Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and one is native to Australia. One of the mainland African species also occurs on Madagascar, but it is not a native of that island. It was introduced in ancient times to south Asia and during the colonial era to the Caribbean. It is also present in the island of Cape Verde. The ninth species was described in 2012, and is found in upland populations of southern and eastern Africa.
Adansonias reach heights of 5 to 30 m (16 to 98 ft) and have trunk diameters of 7 to 11 m (23 to 36 ft). The Glencoe baobab, a specimen of A. digitata in Limpopo Province, South Africa, was considered to be the largest living individual, with a maximum circumference of 47 m (154 ft) and a diameter of about 15.9 m (52 ft). The tree has since split into two parts, so the widest individual trunk may now be that of the Sunland baobab, or Platland tree, also in South Africa. The diameter of this tree at ground level is 9.3 m (31 ft) and its circumference at breast height is 34 m (112 ft).
Adansonia trees produce faint growth rings, probably annually, but they are not reliable for aging specimens, because they are difficult to count and may fade away as the wood ages. Radiocarbon dating has provided data on a few individuals. A specimen of A. digitata known as Grootboom was dated and found to be at least 1275 years old, making it among the oldest known angiosperm trees.
The Malagasy species are important components of the Madagascar dry deciduous forests. Within that biome, Adansonia madagascariensis and A. rubrostipa occur specifically in the Anjajavy Forest, sometimes growing out of the tsingy limestone itself. A. digitata has been called "a defining icon of African bushland".
- Adansonia digitata L. – African baobab, dead-rat-tree, monkey-bread-tree (western, northeastern, central & southern Africa, and in Oman and Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula, Asia)
- Adansonia grandidieri Baill. – Grandidier's baobab, giant baobab (Madagascar)
- Adansonia gregorii F.Muell. (syn. A. gibbosa) – boab, Australian baobab, bottletree, cream-of-tartar-tree, gouty-stem (northwestern Australia)
- Adansonia kilima Pettigrew, et al. – montane African baobab (eastern & southern Africa)
- Adansonia madagascariensis Baill. – Madagascar baobab (Madagascar)
- Adansonia perrieri Capuron – Perrier's baobab (northern Madagascar)
- Adansonia rubrostipa Jum. & H.Perrier (syn. A. fony) – fony baobab (Madagascar)
- Adansonia suarezensis H.Perrier – Suarez baobab (Madagascar)
- Adansonia za Baill. – za baobab (Madagascar)
Baobabs store water in the trunk (up to 100,000 litres or 26,000 US gallons) to endure the harsh drought conditions particular to each region. All occur in seasonally arid areas, and are deciduous, shedding their leaves during the dry season.
Since 2008, interest has been increasing for developing baobab seeds or dried fruit powder for consumer products. As of 2010, the potential international market was estimated at $1 billion per year.
Some species are also sources of fiber, dye, and fuel. Indigenous Australians used the native species A. gregorii for several products, making string from the root fibers and decorative crafts from the fruits. The fresh fruit is said to taste like sherbet. A large, hollow baobab south of Derby, Western Australia, was used in the 1890s as a prison for convicts on their way to Derby for sentencing. The Boab Prison Tree, Derby, still stands and is now a tourist attraction.
The fruit has a velvety shell and is about the size of a coconut, weighing about 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lb). It has an acidic, tart flavor, described as "somewhere between grapefruit, pear, and vanilla".
The dried fruit powder of A. digitata contains about 12% water and modest levels of various nutrients, including carbohydrates, riboflavin, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and phytosterols, with low levels of protein and fats. Its contents of dietary fiber (around 50% by weight), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and thiamin were assessed to be especially high.
In Zimbabwe, the fruit is used in traditional food preparations which include "eating the fruit fresh or crushed crumbly pulp to stir into porridge and drinks". Malawi women have set up commercial ventures harvesting the baobab to earn their children's school fees.
In the European Union (EU) prior to commercial approval, baobab fruit powder was not available for ingredient uses, as legislation from 1997 dictated that foods not commonly consumed in the EU would have to be formally approved first. In 2008, baobab dried fruit pulp was authorized in the EU as a safe food ingredient, and it was later granted GRAS status in the United States.
The powdery white interior may be used as a "thickener in jams and gravies, a sweetener for fruit drinks, or a tangy flavor addition to hot sauces". The fruit pulp and seeds of A. grandidieri and A. za are eaten fresh. In Tanzania, the dry pulp of A. digitata is added to sugar cane to aid fermentation in beermaking. The flavor of limited-release Japanese soda Pepsi Baobab was described as "liberating" by PepsiCo.
In Angola, the dry fruit is usually boiled and the broth is used for juices or as the base for a type of ice cream known as gelado de múcua.
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|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Baobab.|
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