Baobab: Africa's Tree of Life
The giant Baobab, a symbol of life on the African plains, belongs to the genus Adansonia, a group of trees consisting of 9 different species. Only 2 species, Adansonia digitata and Adansionia kilima, are native to the African mainland, while 6 of their relatives are found in Madagascar and one in Australia. Although the Baobab's genus is small, the tree itself is quite the opposite.
This is the monster of the African bush, a vast fleshy giant that looms over the Acacia shrubland waving its Medusa-like branches above a bulbous body.
It may not be as tall as the coast redwood, but its vast bulk makes it a strong contender for the world's largest tree. Adansonia digitata can reach 82 feet (25 m) in height, and 46 feet (14 m) in diameter.
Baobabs are often referred to as upside-down trees, thanks to the root-like appearance of their tangled branches. They are found throughout the African continent, although their range is limited by their preference for drier, less tropical climates. They have been introduced overseas as well, and can now be found in countries like India, China and Oman. Baobabs are now known to exceed 1,500 years of age.
The Sunland Baobab
The widest Baobab (Adansonia digitata) in existence is thought to be the Sunland Baobab, located in Modjadjiskloof, Limpopo Province. This breathtaking specimen boasts a height of 62 feet (19 m), and a diameter of 34.9 feet (10.6 m). At its widest point, the Sunland Baobab's trunk has a circumference of 109.5 feet (33.4 m).
The tree has had plenty of time to reach its record-breaking width, with carbon-dating giving it an approximate age of around 1,700 years. After reaching 1,000 years, Baobabs start to become hollow inside, and the owners of the Sunland Baobab have made the most of this natural feature by creating a bar and wine cellar in its interior.
The Tree of Life
The Baobab has many useful properties, which explains why it is widely known as the Tree of Life. It behaves like a giant succulent and up to 80% of the trunk is water. San bushmen used to rely on the trees as a valuable source of water when the rains failed and the rivers dried. A single tree can hold up to 1,189 gallons (4,500 l), while the hollow center of an old tree can also provide valuable shelter.
The bark and flesh are soft, fibrous and fire-resistant and can be used to weave rope and cloth. Baobab products are also used to make soap, rubber and glue; while the bark and leaves are used in traditional medicine. The Baobab is a life-giver for African wildlife, too, often creating its very own ecosystem. It provides food and shelter for a myriad of species, from the tiniest insect to the mighty African elephant.
A Modern Superfruit
Baobab fruit resembles a velvet-covered, oblong gourd and is filled with big black seeds surrounded by tart, slightly powdery pulp. Native Africans often refer to the baobab as the Monkey-bread-tree, and have known about the health benefits of eating its fruit and leaves for centuries. Young leaves can be cooked and eaten as an alternative to spinach, while the fruit pulp is often soaked, then blended into a drink.
Recently, the Western world has hailed the Baobab fruit as the ultimate superfruit, thanks to its high levels of calcium, iron, potassium and Vitamin C. Some reports state that the fruit's pulp has almost 10 times the amount of Vitamin C as the equivalent serving of fresh oranges. It has 50% more calcium than spinach, and is recommended for skin elasticity, weight loss and improved cardiovascular health.
There are many stories and traditions surrounding the Baobab. Along the Zambezi River, many tribes believe that the Baobab once grew upright, but it considered itself so much better than the lesser trees around it that eventually the gods decided to teach the baobab a lesson. They uprooted it and planted it upside down, in order to stop its boasting and teach the tree humility.
In other areas, specific trees have stories attached to them. Zambia's Kafue National Park is home to a particularly large specimen, which the locals know as Kondanamwali (the tree that eats maidens). According to legend, the tree fell in love with 4 local girls, who shunned the tree and sought human husbands instead. In revenge, the tree pulled the maidens in to its interior and kept them there forever.
Elsewhere, it is believed that washing a young boy in a tree where baobab bark is soaked will help him to grow strong and tall; while others hold the tradition that women living in a Baobab area are likely to be more fertile than those living in an area with no Baobabs. In many places, the enduring giant trees are recognised as a symbol of community, and a place of gathering.
The Order of the Baobab is a South African civilian national honor, instituted in 2002. It is awarded annually by the South African president to citizens for distinguished service in the fields of business and the economy; science, medicine, and technological innovation; or community service. It was named in recognition of the Baobab's endurance, and its cultural and environmental importance.
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The Baobab: Africa’s Tree of Life
By Asilia Africa News | 29 June 2018
By Warren Glam – Content Writer
A pitiless sun bakes East Africa’s savannah to dust during the dry season, pushing life to the brink as it enforces the region’s one and only law. Adapt or die. Herds of foragers survive by trekking north for part of the year, finding the water and grazing they need elsewhere until it’s safe to return. Cloudless skies are blind to the patchy, stricken grasslands they leave behind.
Still, there is beauty in this barren landscape, where every form of life understands grit and ingenuity. The baobab in particular appreciates these things. Renowned as Africa’s tree of life, it can provide water, food, shelter and relief from sickness.
The Upside-Down Tree
There are nine species of baobab tree worldwide, with two of them native to the African mainland. The African Baobab (Adansonia Digitata) occurs on the dry, hot savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa, and its trunk can grow up to 25m tall and 12m wide. It loses its leaves during the dry season and remains leafless for nine months of the year.
Contrasting with its massive trunk, its branches are thin and wispy, looking very much like a complicated root system. For this reason, the baobab is often called the upside-down tree. It grows large green leaves, white flowers and long green fruit during the wet season. The Montane African Baobab (Adansonia Kilima) grows in Eastern Africa and also has the species’ upside-down appearance.
Photo credits: GhanaWeightLoss
Unlike other trees, the baobab’s trunk does not have rings, meaning it’s almost impossible to determine its age. Radio carbon dating is the only way to get results, with estimates climbing to around 1000 years – though some have gone as high as 3000.
The Way Of The Baobab
The baobab has adapted to the savannah’s dry and arid conditions, earning it Africa’s recognition as a symbol of life. It utilises every aspect of its anatomy to stay alive.
The tree is essentially a large, giant succulent, storing up to 120 000 litres of water in its huge trunk. Generally speaking, the trunk is around 80 percent water and varies in size according to how much water it’s holding. The baobab only produces small, finger-like leaves during the wet season. They help the tree conserve as much water as possible. Also, its roots are long enough to reach water or even just moisture deep underground.
Another adaptation has to do with the tree’s stems. They form funnels that allow them to catch every available bit of water, from morning dew to summer downpours, channelling everything into holding canals. This means that the baobab has time to soak in the water over the course of a day.
Spongy bark helps the baobab limit water loss. The tree’s bark is more porous than the sort you’d find on regular wood, meaning it can absorb moisture like a sponge. Consequently, the baobab can absorb water when it rains and store it during times of drought.
Photo credits: Four Elements
The tree also has shiny and slick outer bark. Through this adaptation, the baobab can reflect light and heat, keeping it cool under the savannah’s unforgiving sun. Some scientists have argued that the reflective nature of the bark may help protect the tree from the impact of wildfires, which are fairly common during dry season.
Its Own Ecosystem
A mature baobab tree can sustain its own ecosystem, with a variety of creatures relying on it. Birds nest in its branches, while the tree’s creased trunks and hollowed interiors provide homes for snakes and a number of insects. Monkeys and baboons eat its fruit. Elephants consume the tree’s bark, though mainly during the dry season when they need some of the moisture the tree holds.
Photo credits: Parry Creek Farm
Fruit bats drink its nectar and serve as its main pollinators. Bats mainly pollinate the baobab’s large white flowers at night, drawn in by the their highly visible colour and sweet scent. Insects and different sorts of birds will also help with pollination.
Photo credits: Melin Tuttle
The People’s Tree
East Africans have found a use for every part of the baobab tree. Its leaves are packed with nutrition, being rich in Vitamin C and other nutrients such as alpha and beta carotenes, rhamnose, uronic acids, tannins, potassium, calcium, catechins, tartrate, glutamic acid, mucilage and other sugars. Traditional medicine makes extensive use of baobab leaves for the treatment of fever (malaria), as an anti-asthmatic, anti-histamine and to treat hypertension.East Africans often harvest older leaves to nourish livestock.
The tree’s bark and roots have many medical applications too, including as an antidote to poison. Its fruit is used in cooking and soap making.
People often ferment, ground and turn baobab seeds into a highly nutritious sauce. They also roast and brew them into a coffee-like beverage. Oil from seed kernels has skin healing value, while baobab fruit powder is used to treat dysentery, malaria and malnutrition –among other things.
An African Treasure
East Africa’s sun taxes life on the savannah, yet reveals its brilliance in the process. Chief among the innovators that thrive despite everything is the baobab tree. Join us on a safari in East Africa and meet these giants in person.
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A safari with Asilia Africa offers visitors the opportunity to visit a number of camps in prime locations in the East African bush, discover insights into the environment with a trained local guide, as well as an unparalleled viewing of African wildlife (including the Great Wildebeest Migration and the famed Big 5) while staying in our award-winning camps. In addition, daily game drives are included, as well as your selection of the many optional activities on offer dependent on the camp you’re staying at. In the spirit of warm African hospitality, all your meals and drinks are provided so you’re free to relax and enjoy your safari.
Find out more about what to expect on your first safari with us here.
A safari with Asilia Africa is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Depending on your interests and desires, and time of year you wish to visit, there’s a safari experience to suit you. Whether you’re looking for something romantic and intimate, or even something a little more active, it’s entirely up to you. If it’s a family experience you’re after, some of our camps cater specifically to creating a magical experience for all ages, while others might want a more private safari experience for a small group. Get a better idea of what a safari with Asilia entails here.
In addition, Asilia Africa also offers guests the opportunity to combine an authentic bush safari with an idyllic island escape in Matemwe in Zanzibar.
Searching for something more meaningful, unique, and engaging? Then you need to see our Asilia Adventures. A collection of specially designed packages ranging from two to seven days, offering intrepid travellers something immersive and rich in experience as part of their trip to Kenya or Tanzania.
Asilia Africa’s camps are ideally situated for access to the incredible wildlife of East Africa, as well as the beauty and serenity of the landscapes.
Our safari holidays offer unparalleled and unforgettable wildlife experiences, from the Great Migration, Big 5, birding and more.
In addition to daily game drives, East Africa boasts many activities, including climbing Kilimanjaro, hot-air ballooning, walking safaris, meaningful cultural experiences and relaxing on the beach amongst others.
We've compiled a month-by-month guide to safaris in East Africa, read more here.
Life on safari has a rhythm of its own, largely dictated by the animals’ movements. Generally, the most rewarding times for game viewing is in the cooler early mornings and also late in the afternoons when the animals are at their most active.
A typical day on safari will vary depending on the camp you’re staying at, but will include early morning and late afternoon game drives, with time during the hottest part of the day to relax in camp. Get a better idea of what a safari with Asilia entails here.
Absolutely. Asilia Africa has operated camps in East Africa for two decades and has maintained an exemplary safety record over this time. Our safety practices and procedures are not only effective in managing any emergency situation but also in preventing any unsafe situations from occurring both in camp and outside in the bush.
Other than Encounter Mara, all our camps are unfenced, which guests soon find forms an essential part of connecting with nature.
Our guests are safeguarded by 24-hour Askaari security who keep a lookout for animals, escort guests when necessary, and through their presence, help to keep the animals away from the camp area.
Additionally, our camps maintain strict operational safety protocols, which all guests are briefed on upon arrival. In the unlikely event that a medical situation does occur, we have 24-hour medical back up available with offices in all our operating countries to ensure that our guests are safe from the environment and any unknown medical threats.
Without question! Family safaris in Africa are a worthwhile and meaningful experience, as can be seen in this video. Aside from spending quality time with your nearest and dearest under a wide blue African sky, a safari in Africa offers invaluable experiences including unique cultural experiences, memorable wildlife sightings, and the opportunity to learn more about nature. You can read more about our best family camps here.
If you're thinking of bringing your teenager on safari, you may have a few questions so here's a quick guide to taking teens on safari.
It is worth noting that some of our camps can unfortunately not accommodate children under the age of 5. Feel free to get in touch with us to confirm which of our camps are suitable for smaller children.
While a safari holiday can be had at any time of year, it is worth noting that seasonality will impact the type of experience you’re likely to have as well as the cost of your safari.
During the dry season, the wildlife tends to congregate around the few remaining watering holes. Vegetation at this time is sparse making the animals easier to spot.
The wet season is abundant both in vegetation and wildlife, as this is the birthing season – which means predators come out in force to prey on vulnerable newborns.
Whichever season you choose to travel in, rest assured that our camps are well equipped for the East African climate and to ensure your comfort at all times. We've compiled a month-by-month guide to safaris in East Africa, read more here.
Game drives are an integral part of any safari. You’ll head out into the wilderness with your trained and knowledgeable guide in one of our specialised vehicles. We have both closed and open-sided vehicles and try to have no more than six guests in one vehicle, so everyone is guaranteed a window seat for the best view of the action. Our vehicles also have the added benefit of charging stations to ensure your gadgetry is never at a loss, and a cooler to ensure you’ll have a cold beverage or two along the way.
We now have one of the first electric safari vehicles available at Ol Pejeta Bush Camp as well as an incredibly nifty photographic safari vehicle that is available for guests on request. Private vehicles can also be arranged in advance at an additional cost.
All of our camps do have basic wifi available in certain areas.It is important to note that while wifi is available, it is more than likely not at the same fast speeds that you may be used to, but sufficient for checking emails and keeping in touch with home.
Electricity is available at 220/240 volts AC, 50 Hz. Primary Socket Type: British BS- 1363 (British Standard). Adaptor plugs will be available in some lodges but we advise that you bring at least one with you.Please be aware that the power supply is subject to cuts and voltage fluctuations even in major cities!On safari, most of the lodges are powered by generators or solar panels and these are often turned off during parts of the day and night to reduce noise and fuel consumption. Please also note that in most camps and lodges, power sockets for charging are only available in the main area.
Most of our camps feature stylish and authentic tented suites in keeping with the classic safari experience. Each tent has a main bedroom with an ensuite shower, toilet and basin, decorated to reflect an authentic safari style while providing the necessary amenities and furnishings to provide a comfortable retreat.
Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hand wash, and body lotions are all provided in camp. Please do note that hairdryers are only available at Matemwe and Sayari Camp. This is because, in the bush, electricity is a precious resource and is supplied largely from solar power and generators, so not all of our camps can support hairdryers.
Please note that gratuities are completely at your own discretion and are much appreciated by our staff for service that went above and beyond your expectations. As a guideline, we suggest tipping your guide between US$5 and US$15 per group (depending on group size) and the camp staff between US$5 and US$10 per traveller per day. Tipping is usually done on departure from your camp. You can tip your guide in person and the camp staff collectively using the tip box found in the public area of most of our camps. Tips can be made in Tanzanian Shillings, US Dollars, Euros or Pound Sterling.
The Great Wildebeest Migration is the largest animal migration in the world. Every year, more than 2 million animals (wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle) migrate in a clockwise direction across the ecosystems of the Serengeti (Tanzania) and the Masai Mara (Kenya). On the way, they have to cross crocodile-infested rivers, are hunted by predators, and face natural disasters such as droughts and flooding in a daily struggle for survival.
Asilia Africa operates a number of camps specifically along the route of the migration to offer you a front-row seat to all the migration action. For example, Sayari Camp is located close to many of the Mara River crossing points in the Northern Serengeti. We have three mobile camps in the Serengeti which move to two or three locations in a year to ensure proximity to the action of the migration, while other camps are in a fixed location and offer additional amenities such as swimming pools.
Still feel like you need to know more about The Great Migration? Read this blog post for everything you need to know about the Migration.
Since the Great Migration sees the herds migrate slowly over a route thousands of kilometres long, the best camp for experiencing it will largely depend on the time of year. In addition, although the animals broadly follow the same ancient migratory route every year, there are occasional variations based on environmental or weather conditions, such as the rainfall in a given year.
For this reason, Asilia Africa has permanent camps that cover the traditional migration route as well as semi-permanentcamps which are moved 2 to 3 times a year to ensure prime game viewing.
The Great Migration can be enjoyed year round. Different times of year and location will offer different encounters, so it’s a good idea to work closely with your travel agent to ensure you plan the ideal migration safari to suit your needs.
The first few months of the year offer exceptional predator encounters in the Serengeti as this is the calving season for the wildebeest and newborns make for an easy kill.
By July, the herds are heading into the central Serengeti where the wildebeest make their first river crossing, and take their chances against the waiting (and hungry) crocodiles.
In August, the herds cross over into Kenya’s Masai Mara and by September, the big herds have fragmented into smaller groups. The last few months of the year bring the short rains, causing the Wildebeest to move back into the Serengeti where the animals brace themselves for the next calving season and predator attacks.
You can read more here about what to expect from the migration each month as well as which of our camps are best positioned to enjoy this spectacle at those times of year.
You can enjoy a safari with Asilia all year round, however, the season will influence the kind of experience you’re likely to have. To get an idea of what the different months have to offer, have a look here. If your dates are not flexible, drop us a line and we’ll structure the ideal safari to suit your needs.
Choosing your ideal safari will generally depend on a combination of the following factors: who you are travelling with (e.g. are you going with your family), where you want to go (e.g. Kenya or Tanzania), what you would like to see (e.g. Great Migration) and any special activities you are interested in doing (e.g. hot air ballooning or climbing Kilimanjaro).
You can narrow down your choices using our safari tools for where to go and what to do, or you could check out some of our itineraries to get you started with some ideas.
We’d love to hear from you so we can create the perfect safari to suit your needs.
We specialise in Kenya and Tanzania, home to some of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the world. Our camps are positioned in prime locations ranging from the world famous Serengeti and Masai Mara, through to critical private conservancies, as well as more pioneering areas somewhat off the beaten track.
If you have more time available for your holiday, the bordering countries of Kenya and Tanzania can easily be combined with each other as well as with other nearby places like Uganda, Rwanda and Zanzibar. If you are going on a shorter trip (less than 10 nights is a fair guideline), choosing which country to enjoy will depend on what you want to see and do. For example, if you’re planning a migration safari, your destination of choice will be largely dependent on where the wildebeest are at your chosen time of travel.
To provide you with the best advice tailored to your particular travel needs, we recommend contacting your preferred travel agent or simply enquire with us and we’ll get right back to you.
Definitely - Zanzibar is a great addition to any safari itinerary or even just as an idyllic escape on its own!
Meals on safari feature wholesome homemade dishes with a hint of local flavour. We take great pride in growing our own fresh, organic produce wherever possible and supporting local communities.
Our camp chefs are able to cater to any dietary requirements with advance notice, including preparing gluten free, dairy free, vegan, and halaal meals.
Lunch is usually a buffet featuring fresh salads and meaty mains, while dinner is a 3-course meal served beneath the stars. Dishes feature beef, chicken or fish, and wholesome organic produce with a hint of local spices and flavours. You can read more about Asilia's culinary experience here.
Most of our camps feature stylish and authentic tented suites in keeping with the classic safari experience. Each tent has a main bedroom with a shower, toilet and basin, decorated to reflect the local cultures while providing the necessary amenities and furnishings to provide a comfortable retreat. Do not worry about packing in shampoo, conditioner, body wash, or lotion - these are all provided for you in camp.
Please note, all laundry in camp is done by hand and dried outdoors, therefore turnaround time is dependant on the weather. Out of respect to local culture and customs, we do not wash underwear. Washing powder is provided in all of our guest rooms should guests wish to wash their own.
The overall cost of your safari can vary depending on a range of factors including seasonality, activities, any special offers that may apply as well as other factors.
Generally, a safari at Asilia’s properties will cost you anything from USD $450 per person, per night, and upwards. Your accommodation costs are all-inclusive, which means that all meals, local alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and game drives with our expert guides are included.
For a more accurate estimate, it’s best to contact a safari specialist travel agent who can package an itinerary to suit your needs and budget. Alternatively, you can get in touch with us.
We handle our booking process through a trusted group of highly experienced East Africa safari experts. We operate this way due to there being many nuances involved in planning a well-arranged, unforgettable safari holiday in East Africa. We know through experience that this is simply the best way to ensure our guests enjoy a seamless trip matched to their individual needs. Due to the volumes handled by these agents, they’ll also ensure you get the best possible overall price. If you’re thinking of joining us on a trip to East Africa and you are not currently working with an agent, simply enquire on our website and we’ll arrange for the best agent matched to your needs to tailor-make the ideal itinerary to suit all your needs.
If you're unsure whether to book far in advance or not, this blog post may help provide some clarity.
Getting around in East Africa requires significantly more planning than other destinations. Distances can be large roads may be few. Our safari experts know their way around and can arrange all the transfers you require.
Certain vaccinations may be required for travel to Africa, for example, often you will need a yellow fever vaccination. To be sure, consult your travel agent and your local Travel Clinic to obtain the latest health travel advisories. Concerning Visas, your travel agent will help there too.
Kindly consult your relevant embassy for full details of visa requirements. Please indicate clearly that Asilia Africa is the DMC / ground handler and not the address of first overnight stay.
For addresses and telephone numbers please visit our "contact us" page and either use Kenya (Nairobi) or Tanzania (Arusha) information depending on which country you are visiting.
For International visitors, the following apply:
Tanzania: Dar es Salaam or Kilimanjaro Airport
One way to start researching is by reading up more on the different safari destinations to visit, such as Tanzania or Kenya. We also have some handy tools to help you along, including our camp finder and our experiences page. Another great place to draw inspiration from and to whet your appetite is by browsing our list of itineraries. These can be booked as-is, or customised to suit your needs.
We recommend talking to a specialist East Africa consultant who will assist you with your plans. In addition, they’ll be able to arrange your transfers, flights, and any additional activities you require. If you do not already have an agent, simply enquire with us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our trusted East Africa specialists.
Find out more about what to expect on your first safari with us here.
A safari can be suitable for a wide range of ages and physical conditions. With advanced notice, our camps are capable of catering to certain special requirements, so it’s best to advise your travel specialist early on in your booking process.
Some of our camps are accessible by wheelchair. It’s best to chat to your consultant as they will be able to advise which of our camps with be most suitable.
There are a few handy items you won’t want to forget when going on safari such as a hat and sunblock to name a few. However, it is important to note that certain light aircraft transfer flights will have a smaller and stricter luggage limit. Please note, all laundry in camp is done by hand and dried outdoors, therefore turnaround time is dependant on the weather. Out of respect to local culture and customs, we do not wash underwear. Washing powder is provided in all of our guest rooms should guests wish to wash their own.
Do not worry about packing in shampoo, conditioner, body wash, or lotion - these are all provided for you in camp. You can read our recommendations on everything from clothing to photography to toiletries in this blog post.
Social Impact Potential
As well as its abundant health and beauty benefits, baobab could also transform millions of lives. How? It's simple.
Baobab trees grow in some of the driest, remotest and poorest parts of rural Africa. There is no such thing as a baobab plantation every tree is community or family owned and wild-harvested.
An estimated 10 million households can provide baobab from the existing crop, that is so abundant it mainly goes to waste. National Geographic estimate that a global demand for baobab could be worth 1 billion dollars to rural Africa every year.
The only problem is that 95% of people have never heard of it. Aduna is on a mission to change this. We have launched a campaign to #MakeBaobabFamous and turn the inspiring possibility of baobab into a reality. Find out more.
The largest Adansonia digitata baobab currently in existence is thought to be the Sagole Baobab, located near the rural town of Tshipise in Limpopo Province, South Africa. It stands 72 feet high and has a crown diameter of 125 feet. It would take 20 grown men to form an unbroken circle around the trunk with outstretched arms. The local Venda people call the tree muri kunguluwa, or 'the tree that roars', after the sound the wind makes when it moves through its branches. It is a sacred part of their tribal culture, and has stood sentinel over the surrounding landscape for more than 1,200 years.
Other famous South African baobabs include the Glencoe and Sunland trees, both of which have now toppled over. Radiocarbon dating proved that the Glencoe baobab, which was thought to be the stoutest tree in the world, was over 1,835 years old. The Sunland baobab was so wide that its hollow trunk was able to host a wine cellar and bar. In Madagascar, the most famous baobabs are those growing along the Avenue of the Baobabs on the dirt road from Morondava to Belon’i Tsiribihina. The grove includes around 25 endemic Adansonia grandidieri baobabs, some of which are are over 100 feet tall.
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Baobab, (genus Adansonia), genus of nine species of deciduous trees of the hibiscus, or mallow, family (Malvaceae). Six of the species ( Adansonia grandidieri, A. madagascariensis, A. perrieri, A. rubrostipa, A. suarezensis, and A. za) are endemic to Madagascar, two (A. digitata and A. kilima) are native to mainland Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and one (A. gregorii) is native to northwestern Australia. They have unusual barrel-like trunks and are known for their extraordinary longevity and ethnobotanical importance. Given their peculiar shape, an Arabian legend has it that “the devil plucked up the baobab, thrust its branches into the earth, and left its roots in the air.”
The African baobab (A. digitata) boasts the oldest known angiosperm tree: carbon-14 dating places the age of a specimen in Namibia at about 1,275 years. Known as the “Tree of Life,” the species is found throughout the drier regions of Africa and features a water-storing trunk that may reach a diameter of 9 metres (30 feet) and a height of 18 metres (59 feet). Older individuals often have huge hollow trunks that are formed by the fusion of multiple stems over time. The tree’s unique pendulous flowers are pollinated by bats and bush babies. Its young leaves are edible, and the large gourdlike woody fruit contains a tasty mucilaginous pulp from which a refreshing drink can be made. Since 2005, 9 of the 13 oldest African baobab specimens and 5 of the 6 largest trees have died or suffered the collapse and death of their largest or oldest stems, a statistically unlikely phenomenon that scientists suggested may have been caused by the effects of climate change.
In 2012 morphological and phylogenetic data revealed A. kilima to be a species distinct from A. digitata. Although superficially similar to the African baobab, it favours mountain habitats in mainland Africa and features distinct floral and pollen characteristics, as well as fewer chromosomes.
The six Madagascan baobab species feature compact crowns and gray-brown to red trunks that taper from top to bottom or are bottle-shaped to cylindrical. The flowers range from red to yellow to white and have five petals. Some species are pollinated by bats and lemurs, while others rely on hawk moths. Given the threats of habitat loss and their slow generation time, three species ( A. grandidieri, A. perrieri, and A. suarezensis) are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, including the iconic baobabs of the famous Avenue of the Baobabs (A. grandidieri) in the Menabe region. The remaining three species ( A. madagascariensis, A. rubrostipa, and A. za) are considered to be “near threatened.”
The single Australian baobab species, A. gregorii, called boab, or bottle tree, is found throughout the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Reaching heights of about 12 metres (39 feet), the tree features the characteristically swollen trunk of the genus and bears compound leaves that are completely shed during drought periods. The white flowers are large, perfumed, and pollinated by hawk moths. Although that species was once presumed to be a remnant left behind when the Gondwana landmass broke apart 180 million years ago, the fact that the boab has not evolved to be markedly different from other baobabs suggests a much younger age for the species and that the boab originally came to Australia by long-distance seed dispersal from Africa.
All baobab species are extensively used by local peoples. Many species have edible leaves and fruits and are important for a number of herbal remedies. A strong fibre from the bark is used for rope and cloth in many places, and the trees supply raw materials for hunting and fishing tools. Naturally hollow or excavated trunks often serve as water reserves or temporary shelters and have even been used as prisons, burial sites, and stables. The trees are culturally and religiously important in many areas.
Baobab: The Miraculous Tree of Life
Whitney Hopler is a writer and editor who has covered faith since 1994. She is the author of the book "Wake Up to Wonder."
The Baobab tree (known scientifically as Adansonia digitata) is often called the Tree of Life (and considered a miracle plant) because it stores life-sustaining water inside its trunk and branches.
In Africa and Madagascar, where the tree grows in arid regions, the tree's water is a valuable resource. The Baobab tree is an ancient survivor some Baobab trees have lived more than 1,000 years.
The phrase "tree of life" is rooted in religious history. The original tree of life was in the Garden of Eden, Jews and Christians believe. In the Torah and the Bible, cherubim angels guard the tree of life from humans who had fallen into sin: "After he [God] drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24). Jews believe that Archangel Metatron now guards the tree of life in the spiritual realm.