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Title: Baobab  
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Subject: Tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands, Tsavo, Adansonia gregorii, Kayes, Novel food, Teseney, Bassein Fort, Ngomongo Villages, Gardens by the Bay, Djimini people
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"Baobab" redirects here. For other uses, see Baobab (disambiguation).
"Upside-down tree" redirects here. For the famous European beech tree in Hyde Park, London, see Fagus sylvatica#Distribution and habitat.
Adansonia digitata in Tanzania
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Malvales
Family: Malvaceae
Subfamily: Bombacoideae
Genus: Adansonia

See Species section

Adansonia is a genus of nine species of tree, including six native to Madagascar, two native to mainland Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and one native to Australia. One of the mainland African species also occurs on Madagascar, but it is not a native of that island, and was introduced in ancient times to south Asia and during the colonial era to the Caribbean.[2] The ninth species was described in 2012, incorporating upland populations of southern and eastern Africa.[3]

A typical common name is baobab. The generic name honours Michel Adanson, the French naturalist and explorer who described Adansonia digitata.

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)[4] and a diameter of about 15.9 m (52 ft). The tree split into two parts, so the widest individual may now be 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).[5]

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 is accurate, and 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 the oldest known angiosperm tree.[5][6]


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".[6]


Species include:[7]

Water storage

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.[8] All occur in seasonally arid areas, and are deciduous, shedding their leaves during the dry season.


Since 2008, there has been increasing interest for developing baobab seeds or dried fruit powder for consumer products.[9][10] As of 2010, the potential international market was estimated at $1 billion per year.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13]

The leaves of A. digitata are eaten as a leaf vegetable.[6] The seeds of some species are a source of vegetable oil.[14][15]

The fruit has a velvety shell and is about the size of a coconut,[11] weighing about 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lb). It has an acidic, tart flavor, described as "somewhere between grapefruit, pear, and vanilla".[11][16]

The dried fruit powder of A. digitata contains about 12% water and various nutrients, including carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, potassium and iron.[16][17][18][19]

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".[11] Malawi women have set up commercial ventures harvesting the baobab to earn their children's school fees.[11]

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,[20] and it was later granted GRAS status in the United States.[21]

Food uses

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."[11][18] The fruit pulp and seeds of A. grandidieri[14] and A. za are eaten fresh.[15] In Tanzania, the dry pulp of A. digitata is added to sugar cane to aid fermentation in beermaking.[22] The flavor of limited-release Japanese soda Pepsi Baobab was described as "liberating" by PepsiCo.[23]



Further reading


  • Baum, D. A., et al. (1998). , Bombacaceae) as inferred from multiple data sets. Systematic Biology 47(2), 181–207.
  • Braun, K. (1900) Beiträge zur Anatomie der Adansonia digitata L. F. Reinhardt, Universitäts-Buchdruckerei, Basel, OCLC 15926986
  • Lowe, P. The Boab Tree. Port Melbourne, Australia: Lothian. ISBN 0-85091-912-6
  • Pakenham, T. The Remarkable Baobab. New York: Norton. 2004. ISBN 0-393-05989-8
  • Watson, R. The African Baobab. Cape Town, London: Struik. 2007. ISBN 978-1-77007-430-9

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