Baobab’s are truly remarkable trees and are often referred to as: upside down trees, milk bottles, bottle-brushes, chamber pots, wine coolers, water buckets, teapots, giant scent-bottles, Grecian urns, and some even resemble misshapen carrots or radishes.
But make no mistake these exquisitely evolved beauties thrive in climates where people and other plants have a very hard time just making a living.
Essentially, Baobab’s are massive canteens, storing enough water to tolerate many months of drought. Asbestos-like bark protects them from the heat of surface fires. And they sprout new shoots from their roots, and new roots from their trunk too.
In fact, apart from a single specimen of the Montezuma cypress at Tule in southern Mexico – Baobab’s have the largest circumference of any of the 80,000 different kinds of trees on the planet. Some big “bottle-brushes” can even attain a height equivalent to a 10-storey building.
There are eight species of Baobab: six in Madagascar, one in Australia and one in Africa. Baobabs are found in 31 countries in Africa including four specimens in South Africa known for their girths that exceed 100 feet.
In the absence of an annual tree ring it is difficult to exactly age these magnificent survivors. It is believed that they can reach almost 1,000 years.
Michel Adanson a French explorer and naturalist discovered the first Baobab in August of 1749 on the island of Sor in Senegal. He was amazed at the incredible properties of these awesome trees.
All eight species have different shaped seedpods ranging from long, curved African one to apple-shaped and egg-shaped ones in Madagascar.
The seedpods contain small black bean-like seeds and are delicious and nutritious raw or roasted. They are an alternative for coffee beans.
The white pulp, which protects the seeds, makes a sherbet-like or lemonade drink rich in vitamin C. The pulp can also be used in baking as a substitute for cream of tartar and it is also a potent medicine as a replacement for quinine (antimalarial drug).
Empty seedpods are made into cups, snuff boxes and used as fishing floats. When the seedpods are burnt, the ashes are used as an efficacious soap. In addition, the seedpods are an important food source for critters including half the world’s species of lemur in Madagascar and native species of squirrels.
The white flowers and pale green foliage are edible.
The bark can be harvested, without killing the tree, similar to Portuguese cork oak. Baobab bark can be pounded to make rope and bark clothing or flattened to make excellent roof tiles.
The flowers of African and Australian Baobab’s are white. The Madagascar species are scarlet. Three species of long-tubed hawk moths pollinate the pungent flowers. The other three Baobab species have rancid smelling flowers mimicking rotting carrion to attract bats as their pollinators. Flowering and hence pollinating only occurs at night in all eight species.
Baobab’s evolved about 15 million years ago, probably first on Madagascar. Thick-shelled, waterproofed seedpods floated east to Africa and west to Asia and finally to northwest Australia.
In the absence of lemurs in Australia, Baobab’s evolved a self-opening seedpod; a soft, thin shell that breaks when a two pound seedpod hits the ground.
African slaves brought Baobab seeds to the Caribbean island of St. Croix in the 17th century. Today there are over 100 splendid Baobab spread across the island. There is also a large, young specimen in the Fairchild Tropical garden in Miami.
A World Bank dam at Kariba, Zimbabwe drowned thousands of Baobabs. And tens of thousands of Baobabs were massacred in West Africa because they were host to insect pests which plagued the cocoa and cotton plantations. (The insects found new host plants and the absurd slaughter were deemed senseless).
Indigenous Peoples, fruit bats, baboons, hawk moths, honeybees, squirrels and elephants all need the Baobab. Elephants and baboons dump seeds in their dung, which acts as a fertilizer pack. In return Baobabs provide food, vitamins, medicine, water and shade.
Nature has a flawless blueprint and these wonderful trees and the ecosystems that depend upon them are very worthy of conservation efforts.
Being recognized as a ‘superfruit’, the Baobab fruit has become a popular add-on to certain food items deemed as healthy foods.
With the fruit’s velvety skin, you can say that Baobab feels like coconut sans the hairy fiber inside. When it is broken into two, you’ll observe the dry, powdery flesh filled with different antioxidants, calcium and Vitamin C. This pack of nutrition is responsible for it being called a superfruit and superfood – something that not even the likes of apple and orange could ever be called.
Why is the baobab considered as a superfood?
In terms of nutrition, Baobab fruit contains over 10 times the antioxidant level of oranges and six times more ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). It has also twice the calcium to be found in a glass of milk and contains other minerals like potassium and phosphorus, which are necessary for bones. The fruit pulp is extremely rich in dietary fiber, containing pre-biotics that stimulate good bacteria in the intestine.
Besides the nutritional facts about the fruit, the Baobab shells, which are pod-shaped husks of the fruit, are used by the nomads as dishes. They can also be used as stuff boxes or containers. The husks are used as fuel and their potash-rich ash is said to be suitable for soap-making. When powdered, it can be smoked in replacement for tobacco. The fruit pulp also provides significant uses. When mixed with milk, it can be used as a nutritious drink. It is also used for smoking fish because its harsh smell can drive away flies and other insects. Similar to the seeds and bark, the pulp also contains an antidote against the strophanthus snake.
Health-wise, the Baobab fruit is used as an herbal medicine for common illnesses. It is an intestinal regulator in the sense that it prevents gastric and colon disorders. Its high dietary fiber content also cleanses the colon and prevents constipation. The fruit is also effective in treating diarrhea, dysentery, hemoptysis and skin diseases like small pox and measles. Continued intake of Baobab juice can reduce the occurrence of osteoporosis because of its high calcium and phosphorus content. In fact, 100 grams of Baobab pulp contains more or less 293 mg of calcium, 96-118 mg of phosphorus, 2.31 mg of potassium and chunks of antioxidants which are very important in getting rid of free radicals. As a superfood, it contains thiamine and riboflavin, which enhance the development of the body organs and maintain skin integrity and the cellular integrity of the nerves. It is also rich in Vitamin A for better eyesight. Recently, it was discovered that the fruit is also rich in prebiotics and probiotics. The key role of these bacteria is in their promotion of a balance in our bodies, improvement of the immune system and reduction of inflammation. In light of this, probiotic foods such as Baobab can prevent allergies, yeast infections, adverse effects of some antibiotics and even several bowel diseases.
Baobab fruit is highly valuable due to its nutritional function. It isn’t just a source of food, but more than that, it serves as an energy booster, a raw material for other necessities and purposes and a natural medicine to treat common illnesses.
In the last few years many natural ingredients, especially from the Amazon, have been touted for their antioxidant and cosmeceutical properties. An African natural—Baobab—also has a tremendous amount to offer the skin.
Baobab is an exotic natural that tightens and tones the skin, moisturizes and encourages skin cell regeneration. Baobab trees (Adansonia digitata) are special and distinctive features of the African savanna. The trees can live for up to 1,000 years and are some of the largest in the world. The tree survives prolonged droughts by storing up to 30,000 gallons of water in its massive, fibrous, sponge-like trunk, which can be up to 30 to 60 feet in diameter. To access this water, the Kalahari bushmen use hollow pieces of grass (much like a straw) to suck the water out. Hollowed out baobab trunks in the vicinity of villages are used for water storage. Thus, the Baobab tree is also known as the “Tree of Life”.
Information about the Baobab
The Baobab tree has also been called “the upside-down tree” because its weirdly shaped branches resemble roots. The fruit of the African baobab tree is particularly appealing to baboons, hence its other nickname, “monkey-bread tree”. Although the tree is not native to Egypt, the fruit was known in the herb and spice markets of Cairo as early as 2500 B.C. It was made famous in the West by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s French fable “The Little Prince.”2 The baobab was approved for European markets in 2008, and FDA soon followed suit. The fruit’s dry pulp is now sold as an ingredient for smoothies and cereal bars.3
The tree’s white, powdery fruit is classed as a functional food, rich in specific nutrients and phyto-chemicals, and are promoted as being able to improve health condition and/or disease prevention. The fruit is bottle or cucumber shaped and has a woody outer shell covered by velvety yellowish, sometimes greenish hairs. The fruit pulp is split into mealy agglomerates that enclose several seeds. The Baobab tree is a vital food source for many local tribes, cattle and game; the fruit contains both pulp and seeds which are eaten. The pulp can also be mixed with water and made into a drink; the seeds of the baobab tree can be eaten alone or mixed with millet and seedlings and young leaves are eaten like asparagus or are used in salads.
Its benefits on our skin
The Baobab fruit has six times as much vitamin C as an orange, 50 percent more calcium than spinach and is a plentiful source of antioxidants. Its antioxidant activity is four times that of a kiwi or apple pulp. The leaves are an excellent source of vitamin A, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum and phosphorus, and the seeds are packed with protein. 4 Vitamins A and B1, B2, B3, B6 and dietary fibers are also present in Baobob.5 Baobab oil is a clear, golden yellow oil that with a slight nutty odor. The oil is obtained by cold pressing or Co2 extraction of the dried baobab seeds. Baobab oil contains fatty acids (omega 3-6-9), sterols, proteins, potassium, magnesium calcium, iron, zinc and amino acids. Topical application of this nourishing, antioxidant oil can help alleviate chronic dry skin and chronic bruising by improving skin elasticity and boosting epidermal softening.
Recent studies in Europe have revealed a multitude of skin benefits of Baobab. Leaf and bark extracts tighten and tone skin, while oil from the seeds moisturizes and encourages skin cell regeneration with vitamins A, D and E.6 Studies carried out in the laboratory showed doses between 400 and 800 mg/kg determine a marked anti-inflammatory effect and are able to reduce inflammation induced in the animal limb with formalin. This activity may be attributed to the presence of sterols, saponins and triterpenes in the aqueous extract. Clinically, skin care companies have found Baobab fruit and oil combats skin aging, helps improve skin firmness and strength by boosting the elastic quality of the skin, diminishes the look of facial lines, evens out skin tone, and refreshes and hydrates the skin.
Baobab has already been incorporated into several well-known skin care lines and has also been used in several French hair treatment gels and lip balms. Thus we can see that while Baobab has been discovered by some skin care companies, many more have yet to be introduced to its wonderful properties.
The baobab tree was in the past perhaps best associated with tales of mystery and spirits– even evils ones– but rarely its intrinsic value.Many families, especially those from the central regions where the tree is common, did not view the baobab positively owing to lack of correct information, or the sheer impact of rumours peddled throughout history.
“It is a home for the Satan and spirits,” many children grew to believe, as that is how the tree was best described countrywide. However, the tree is not big-for-nothing. It has huge health benefits. Its fruit has tremendous values that have come to be appreciated as demonstrated recently at a food exhibition in Dar es Salaam.
Even in some traditional settings, the baobab has been recognized for its beneficial health and nutritional properties. One group called Mildor, which is based in the city and has 10 members, is doing the best it could to earn income by selling products made from the baobab fruits, while at the same time enhancing the health of its customers.
The group, established early this year, is making and selling baobab by- products from the seeds.
It was through training by the Small Industries Development Organisation (SIDO) that the group got the knowledge of making such products. Christine Masasa, a member of Mildor, says the baobab has many health benefits. “The oil and the powder have plenty of nutritional and medicinal properties,” she says.
Packed in a colourless nylon paper, the baobab powder looks pale in colour and has a unique tangy taste, which is described as “caramel pear with subtle tones of grapefruit”. The powder forms naturally inside the hard-shelled fruit of the tree.
According to Christine, the powder makes a tasty beverage, after soaking in water or milk.
She says the powder has amazingly high nutritional contents. It has more vitamin C than oranges, and more calcium than milk.
The fruit powder is also said to be rich with antioxidant elements, more than double the figures reported for pomegranates and cranberries, and more than three times the reported figure for blueberries.
It contains more potassium than apricots, bananas, peaches and apples, and also has magnesium content above that of bananas, apricots, peaches and apples.
The powder has higher antioxidant levels compared to other fruits including apples, apricots, bananas and peaches. It contains more iron than spinach and apples, in addition to containing higher levels of dietary fibre than most fruits including apples, peaches, apricots and bananas.
Pectin is one source of fibre in baobab and has been reported to have a role in reduction of total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which might cause blockage of blood vessels.
In other countries in Africa and Europe baobab products, such as jams, teas, nutrition bars and powder ingredient mixes are already available.
Baobab leaves can be used as a dish and can heal stomach ulcers, typhoid, and an instant energy booster.
Mildor also extracts oil by cold-pressing the seeds of baobab. The semi-fluid golden coloured oil has a gentle scent and is rich in Vitamin A, B, C, D and F, and can be used as medicine for treatment of several diseases.
Christine says it is supposed to be taken two teaspoonfuls daily, and is said to increase body cells, body CD4, and build a healthy liver and kidney.
It also helps to remove cholesterol, body poison and reduce body weight. Welu Shagile, 65, is one of the users of the oil and she says it has helped her recover from weight problems. “I used the oil for two months and I have lost 15 kilogrammes. I was suffering from excessive tiredness and now I am fit to walk around and take care of myself,” she says.
The edible oil can also be applied to the skin for beauty purposes. “This oil is perfect for people with albinism, since it protects skin damage by the sun,” Christine says.
The group does not throw away any thing that come from the seeds. The residue that remains after processing oil is mixed with coconut oil and used for making soap. According to Christine, the soap helps fight skin diseases, such as acne, sunburn, eczema and rashes.
Christine and her group collect the baobab seeds from Morogoro, Dodoma and Ruaha. She says the natives still maintain myths towards these trees.
“The villagers stare at us the way we keep collecting the seeds. We try to educate them that they are beneficial foods and should be gathered for large scale consumption,” she says.
The group educates the villagers on how to take care of the tree and eradicate the myths around it.
“They say that there are large snakes in the baobab trees, so they can’t collect the fruits,” she says.
A study conducted in 2000 by Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), department of forestry, titled “Potentials of Non Wood Forest Products in Household Food Security in Tanzania” revealed that non-wood forest products (baobab included) are of vital importance as tools for coping with food shortage and famines.
If you want to learn more about the Baobab, Adansonia digitata Bombacaceae, take a look at the descriptions below.
You’ll know everything about its local names, notanic description, biology, ecology, biophysical limits, documented species distribution, products, services, tree management, germplasm management, or pests and diseases.
English (upside-down tree,baobab,guinea tamarind,monkey bread tree,lemonade tree,cream-of-tartar tree,sour gourd);
French (pain de singe, baobab, calebassier,arbre aux calabasses,mapou zombi,mapou etranger);
Hindi (gorakh-imli,gorak lichora,gorak amla,gorak ali,gorakh-cinch,kapla-vriksha,khura-sani-imli);
Sinhala (aliha gaha); Somali (yak);
Tigrigna (kommer,hermer banba,momret,duma);
Tongan (mubuyu); Tswana (mowana);
Adansonia digitata is a large, round canopied tree with a swollen trunk, about 10-25 m in height, often with a bole of 3-10 m (giant individuals attain a girth of up to 28 m); bark is soft, smooth, fibrous, reddish-brown, greyish-brown or purplish-grey; bark of leaf-bearing branches is normally ashy on the last node; a green layer below the outer, waxy layer of the bark, presumably to assist in photosynthesis when the tree has shed its leaves.
The thick, fibrous bark is remarkably fire resistant, and even if the interior is completely burnt out, the tree continues to live. Regrowth after fire results in a thickened, uneven integument that gives the tree its gnarled appearance resembling an elephant’s skin but that serves as added protection against fire. Mature thick and extensive lateral roots anchor the tree on the ground and end in clusters of potatolike tubers; the thick, strong, prominent taproot at 6 months is 3 times the length of the seedling; roots grow fast but never penetrate far beyond a depth of 2 m, which explains why in old age they are often found toppled when the branches increase in weight.
Leaves alternate, digitately 3- to 9-foliate; leaflets oblong to ovate, 5-15 x 3-7 cm, lower leaflets being the smallest and terminal leaflet the largest; leaflets dark green, with short, soft hairs; lateral veins looping; apex and base tapering; margin entire; petiolules absent or almost so; petiole up to 12 cm long.
Flowers a waxy white, up to 20 cm in diameter, axillary, solitary, pendulous, bisexual; all floral parts in 5s; calyx deeply lobed, with white, silky hairs inside; large, crinkly, spreading petals; many stamens on a large central column that is shed with the petals; ovary superior, 5-10 chambered; petals bruise easily and become brown; flowers have an unpleasant scent.
Fruit ovoid, 12 cm or more in length, with a hard, woody shell, covered with yellowish-grey velvety hairs, indehiscent; seeds smooth, embedded in a whitish powdery pulp, have little or no endosperm.
The name commemorates the French botanist Michel Adanson (1727- 1806), who lived in Senegal for 6 years and wrote a work on that country’s natural history. Linneaus dedicated the genus and species to him; ‘digitata’ means hand shaped, referring to the shape of the leaf.
Mostly bats (Ephormorphus wahlbergii and Rousettus aegyptiacus) pollinate the flowers. The flowers emit what some describe as a strong carrion smell, which is presumably attractive to the bats; it is also known to attract the bluebottle fly (Chrysomyia marginalis) and at least 3 nocturnal moths: American bollworm (Heliothis armigera), red bollworm (Diparopsis castanea) and spring bollworm (Earias biplaga). In East Africa, the bush baby (Galago crassicaudatus) feeds nocturnally on the flowers, thus aiding in pollination. In southern Africa the tree flowers from October to December and fruits from April to May.
The tree is characteristic of thorn woodlands of the African savannahs, which are characterized by low altitudes with 4-10 dry months a year split into 1 or 2 periods. A. digitata is resistant to fire, termite and drought, and prefers a high watertable. It occurs as isolated individuals or grouped in clumps irrespective of soil type. It is not found in areas of deep sand, presumably because it is unable to obtain sufficient anchorage and moisture. A. digitata is very sensitive to waterlogging and frost. All A. digitata locations can be described as arid and semi-arid, with not more than a day frost per year.
Altitude: 0-1500 m, Mean annual rainfall: (100)250-1 000(1500) mm. Soil type: Shows a preference for well-drained soils that are acidic
Documented species distribution
Native: Exotic: Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Central African Republic, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Gabon, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Malaysia, Martinique, Mauritius, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, New Caledonia, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Sao Tome et Principe, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, US, Virgin Islands (US)
The map above shows countries where the species have been planted. It does neither suggest that the species can be planted in every ecological zone within that country, nor that the species can not be planted in other countries than those depicted. Since some tree species are invasive, you need to follow biosafety procedures that apply to your planting site.
Food: An edible white, powdery pulp found in the fruit is very rich in vitamin C and B2 and makes a refreshing drink. Ripe fruits are collected and cracked to remove the ‘flour’, which is mixed with milk to prepare a flavoured fermented porridge. Young leaves are also rich in Vitamin C, contain uronic acids, and are high in demand in West Africa as a soup vegetable. In Ferlo, North Senegal, an extract of the leaves, called ‘lalo’, is used to give couscous (millet porridge) a smooth consistency. The leaves also form an excellent condiment and seasoning.
The small stem and roots of the seedlings are eaten as vegetable; mature, thick roots are cooked and eaten during famine. A root decoction is widely used in Sierra Leone as food. It is prepared by boiling, roasting, soaking or fermenting the roots, and tastes like almonds. Having a high water content, the wood is chewed by humans and animals in case of extreme water scarcity. The wood can be used as a salt substitute. The acid pith is used as a substitute for cream of tartar in baking, to curdle milk and smoke fish. It is also roasted and used as a coffee substitute. The seeds contain appreciable quantities of tartaric acid and potassium bitar; they are refreshing to suck, and when soaked in water make a palatable drink.
Fodder: Young leaves, fruit, pods and seeds provide fodder for game and domestic animals. During drought, donkeys and game animals chew both the bark and fibrous wood for sap. Livestock and game often destroy young trees.
Apiculture: The tree is a source of fine quality honey. Wild bees manage to perforate the soft wood and lodge their honey in the holes. In many parts of Africa, the hollow trunks are used for beekeeping.
Fuel: The long-fibred wood is suitable for firewood. The shell and seeds are also used for fuel, which potters use to smooth earthenware necklaces before firing.
Fibre: The bark from the lower part of the stem of younger trees and of the roots can be removed to produce a valuable fibre. If managed properly the trees are not seriously damaged, and even after repeated use the bark regenerates and can be stripped again some years later. It is used to make excellent cordage, ropes, harness straps, mats, snares and fishing lines, fibre cloth, musical instrument strings tethers, bed-springs and bow strings. In both Senegal and Ethiopia, the fibres are woven into waterproof hats that may also serve as drinking vessels. The fibre is the best for making the famous ‘kiondo’ baskets of Kenya. Strong, tough and tear-resistant paper is produced from the fibre. It is commercially exploited in India for currency notes.
Timber: The wood is whitish, spongy and light (air-dried 320 kg/cubic m). It is used for making canoes, rafts, insulating boards, wooden platters and trays, boxes and floats for fishing nets.
Gum or resin: Glue can be made by mixing flower pollen with water.
Tannin or dyestuff: The wood contains some tannins, and the acid pith is used to coagulate rubber. In East Africa, the roots produce a useful red dye.
Lipids: A non-drying, golden yellow oil of agreeable taste, which is used in gala occasions in Senegal, may be obtained by distilling the seeds. In Bicha and Mondo villages in Tanzania, A. digitata seeds are used as a substitute for cooking oil.
Alcohol: The Wasandawe of Tanzania use the liquid from the pulp for brewing beer, as do the Akamba people of Kenya, who use the seed pulp as fermenting agent in some local beer.
Poison: The bark is boiled for days to extract a substance poisonous to ants. Fruit pulp burns with an acrid, irritating smoke that can be used to deter insects troublesome to livestock.
Medicine: Hyposensitive and antihistamine properties are present in the leaves, which are used to treat kidney and bladder diseases, asthma, general fatigue, diarrhoea, insect bites, and guinea worm. Leaf and flower infusions are valued for respiratory problems, digestive disorders and eye inflammation. The seed paste is used for curing tooth and gum diseases. The fruit pulp, seed and bark are reputedly an antidote to Strophanthus poisoning. Gum from the bark is used for cleansing sores. It is also used as an expectorant and a diaphoretic. The bark is used in steam baths for calming shivering and high fever. A decoction of the roots is taken as a remedy for lassitude impotence and kwashiorkor. The bark is boiled and taken as a cure for body pains. This infusion is also used to treat colds, fever and influenza. Seeds are used to cure gastric, kidney and joint diseases; they are roasted then ground and the powder smeared on the affected part or drunk in water.
Other products: Ash from the shell, bark and seed, rich in potash, is widely used in making soap, prepared by boiling the bark and fruit ash in oil. The shell can be used as a dish, water dipper, vessel for liquids, snuffbox, fishing float; it also makes an excellent rat trap. The powdered husk or penducule may be smoked as a tobacco substitute or added to snuff to increase pungency. The pulp extract can be used as a hair wash.
Soil improver: Decaying wood of a tree that has died of old age or from lightning is spread on fields as a fertilizer. Ashes from the shell, bark and seed are rich in potash and are useful as a fertilizer.
Ornamental: A. digitata is a popular species for bonsai specimens. The South African ‘Baobab Style’ originated with A. digitata.
Other services: In dry regions, A. digitata plays a vital role in water storage; a hollowed trunk may be carved out in 3-4 days. A medium-sized tree may hold 400 gallons while a large tree could contain over 2000 gallons, and water stored in them is said to remain sweet for several years if the hollow is kept well closed.
In East Africa the trunks are hollowed out to provide shelter and storage, and in West Africa the hollowed trunks are sometimes used as tombs.
Once established, the seedlings grow well, becoming 2 m tall in 2 years, and 7 m tall in 10 years. The tree then grows slowly but lives long; under favourable conditions some A. digitata may live for more than 1000 years. There is a prehistoric drawing of an A. digitata tree at the National Museums of Kenya. The trunk may even shrink during periods of severe drought. A. digitata may be pollarded or lopped to encourage abundance of leaves.
Seeds are probably orthodox; no loss in viability during 1 year of hermetic storage at 4 deg. C; viability can be maintained for several years in hermetic storage at 3 deg. C with 8-11 % mc. There are normally 2000-3000 seeds/kg.
Pests and diseases
The tree is very much liked by elephants, which cut the storage tissue of the bole and can damage or even destroy a tree.
Insects include cotton bollworms (Diparopsis castanea, Earias biplaga and Heliothis armigera), cotton stainer bugs (Dysercus fasciatus, D. intermedius, D. nigrofasciatus, D. suberstitious, Odontopus exsanguinis, O. sexpunctatus and Oxycarenus albipennis), and flea beetles (Podagrica spp.). Pollarding was formerly practised in the Sudan to control cotton stainers, but was also found to stop the fruiting for at least 2 years. In Ghana an unidentified black beetle is reported to damage and eventually destroy branches by girdling. Also from West Africa there is a report that a long¬horn beetle, Aneleptes trifascicata, attacks and kills young trees by girdling the stem. In the Transvaal, the masonga caterpillar or mopane worm, Gonimbrasia herlina, is said to feed on the leaves.
A. digitata is also host to members of the Pseudococcoidae family, the mealy bugs, which act as the vectors for various virus diseases of cocoa in West Africa, as well as the cocoa capsid, Distantiella theobroma. The sooty baobab syndrome is an episodic, drought-induced phenomenon related to climatic changes, made worse in recent times by human interference that limits local availability of soil moisture. Affected trees, which appear dead or dying exhibit a striking, blackened or burnt appearance, hence the colloquial term ‘sooty baobabs’.
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Also known as the Giant Madagascar baobab (Adansonia grandidieri), or Grandidier’s baobab, this iconic tree once towered over Madagascar’s dramatic arid western landscapes but now exists in only five known locations.
Its thick, bottle-shaped trunks hold large amounts of water, an extremely valuable resource to people and wildlife living in the drier regions of this island nation.
The baobab reflects the uniqueness of Madagascar’s flora. All but one of the world’s eight baobab species survive here, and most are found nowhere else on the planet.
More information about the giant Baobab tree of Madagascar
Malagasy communities call this tree the “mother of the forest”, because of its edible fruits, oil-bearing seeds, and bark that can be made into rope. In many areas, certain believers consider individual baobabs sacred and make regular offerings. Like other large trees in habitats around the world, this baobab plays an essential role in the local ecosystem. While nocturnal bats pollinate most baobabs, this particular species is pollinated by nocturnal lemurs.
Its status as a resource provider and occasional sacred site has spared individual baobabs in areas where much of the original forests has been cleared. Scientists believe that in earlier times, baobabs grew in deciduous forests near to water. Today, however, they are scattered throughout degraded lands.
The baobab has difficulty reproducing in these unnatural conditions, which has resulted in a steadily aging population. Converting land for agricultural development has dramatically transformed, and in turn reduced, the baobab’s habitat. Competition from invasive species only worsens the situation, placing the species – and the abundant life it once supported – under threat.
Scientists expect habitat loss and climate change to cause many extinctions of plant species. CI-Madagascar is working closely with nongovernmental and government partners, as well as local communities, to address the country’s deforestation and land management issues.
In 2003, the Madagascar government committed to tripling the size of its current protected area network. By identifying sites, or Key Biodiversity Areas, where threatened species such as the baobab are known to exist, we are helping to ensure that protected areas include the most critical places for conservation.
Since the global conservation status of most plants have never been assessed, many species are likely to disappear before we know they exist. The majestic baobab, itself on the brink of extinction, stands as a symbol for those plants we may yet lose.
The Baobabs are full of mystery and wonder in Africa, tales have been brought down verbally from generation to generation. We have tried to compile as much as possible regarding this great tree of life.
Focus on these legends
A very, very long time ago, some African legends say that the first baobab sprouted beside a small lake. As it grew taller and looked about it spied other trees, noting their colorful flowers, straight and handsome trunks, and large leaves. Then one day the wind died away leaving the water smooth as a mirror, and the tree finally got to see itself. The reflected image shocked it to its root hairs. Its own flowers lacked bright color, its leaves were tiny, it was grossly fat, and its bark resembled the wrinkled hide of an old elephant.
In a strongly worded invocation to the creator, the baobab complained about the bad deal it’d been given. This impertinence had no effect: Following a hasty reconsideration, the deity felt fully satisfied. Relishing the fact that some organisms were purposefully less than perfect, the creator demanded to know whether the baobab found the hippopotamus beautiful, or the hyena’s cry pleasant-and then retired in a huff behind the clouds.
But back on earth the barrel-chested whiner neither stopped peering at its reflection nor raising its voice in protest. Finally, an exasperated creator returned from the sky, seized the ingrate by the trunk, yanked it from the ground, turned it over, and replanted it upside down. And from that day since, the baobab has been unable to see its reflection or make complaint; for thousands of years it has worked strictly in silence, paying off its ancient transgression by doing good deeds for people. All across the African continent some variation on this story is told to explain why this species is so unusual and yet so helpful.
Many cultures claim to remember a time when great and ancient trees cloaked vast areas of the earth. The enchanting original forests and foreboding gigantic trees were of mythical dimensions and proportions.
Learn more about the mythical Baobab
The African baobab is a living embodiment of timeless affinities with nature common to many peoples throughout the continent. It serves as a metaphoric window into Africa’s real or imagined past, through which we may view practices said to be of great antiquity.
Visitors to Sukur are warned not to approach a certain ancient baobab tree because, villagers say, it turns people into hermaphrodites.
Several myths that use the baobab as a backdrop for teaching moral lessons are told by the Bushmen or Hausa people of Northern Nigeria. One tale involving the baobab which is used to explain a phenomenon of nature as well as teach a moral lesson is the myth “The Tale of the Superman”. In this story a husband boasts to his wife that he is the strongest man alive. He learns of another man who claims to be “superman”, and goes to seek him out. This second “superman” is actually an extremely powerful superhuman who kicks up wind wherever he goes and eats men for dinner. While trying to escape from “superman”, the husband comes across the “Giant-of-the-Forest” sitting under a baobab tree. The giant offers to help the husband, and enters into a terrible fight with “superman”. In their struggle to free themselves from each other’s grasp, they leap to such a height they disappear into the heavens. As a result, their struggle can be heard as thunder.
The moral of the story is summed up by the wife who says, “Never boast about your achievements again. However strong or clever or rich or powerful you are, there is always somebody more so.”
Baobab powder is known for its amazing properties and its nutritious qualities. But is it really true? Let’s check it out.
The baobab tree is highly distinctive in the areas of Africa where it grows. It is found in relatively dry grassland areas where its massive size stands out against the other low-lying bushes and trees. The shape of the tree is also distinctive, with broad trunks that have few branches until the top of the tree produces a wide canopy. In Zimbabwe, the baobab is called the upside-down tree because its canopy looks more like a root system. Legend has it that God turned the tree upside down because he found the taste of its fruit so disagreeable.
Ironically, that same fruit is attracting much interest these days. It has a very bitter, citrusy taste, but one that is growing on some people. In the past few years, baobab fruit has been touted as the next “super fruit” coming from the “tree of life”. A major impetus for marketing baobab occurred in 2008 when dried baobab fruit pulp was approved as a novel food under EU regulation. The pulp is made by removing the seeds and fibre from the fruit, with the remainder dried and powdered. In 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration recognised dried baobab fruit pulp as generally safe. This opened the regulatory door to it being used in foods and food supplements. The raw fruit itself is generally not available outside Africa.
Evidence from studies
Most studies of baobab have focused on its nutrient content, particularly that of the dried fruit pulp that is available in Europe and the US. Advertisements claim that baobab has more vitamin C than oranges and more calcium than milk. That all depends on how much you consume! Independent tests have found that both the fruit and foods made from the pulp vary considerably in their nutrient content. For example, the amount of vitamin C in fruit from different baobab trees can vary four-fold. This is due to different soil conditions, weather during growth and the quality of storage and processing.
In spite of this, baobab fruit pulp is an excellent source of vitamin C, calcium, zinc, phosphorous, iron and some other nutrients.
For example, 20g will provide 40-70 per cent of an adult’s recommended daily intake of vitamin C. The same amount of baobab pulp provides 5-10 per cent of the recommended daily intake of the minerals listed above. The bulk of the powder is composed of carbohydrates, with a small amount of protein.
The fruit pulp has also been found to have good antioxidant activity.
There are no known negative effects of baobab fruit, although this area has not been studied in controlled research.
The baobab fruit is highly nutritious, although very tart. Fruit juice traditionally made from the baobab is usually loaded up with sugar to make it more palatable. The dried fruit pulp is becoming increasingly available in exotic fruit drinks, shakes and food supplements. Although many claims are made that baobab has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial or anti-diarrhoeal properties, none of these have been examined in human studies.
While interest in baobab is growing outside Africa, it will be important not to remove such nutritious foods from those who depend on it. Other exotic fruits have been marketed so heavily in the West that the food became too expensive for those living in the areas where it grows. All parts of the baobab tree are important in Africa for different purposes. At the same time, a renewable resource such as baobab fruit, appropriately managed, is an important commercial possibility for parts of Africa with few other natural resources.
The Latin name for Baobab, Adansonia digitata, is in honour of the French botanist, Michel Adanson, who concluded that out of all the trees he had studied, the Baobab, “is probably the most useful tree in all”.
M. Adanson is himself testimony to this claim: he consumed Baobab juice twice a day, throughout his five years in Senegal and remained convinced that this maintained his fighting health. The discovery of Baobab fruits in ancient Egyptian tombs has demonstrated how prized these fruits were, however they were notoriously difficult to acquire, since the Egyptians were reliant on traders traveling the caravan route from Sudan. It seems that the commonly used European name, Baobab, originated from the Cairo merchant’s usage of the word, bu hobab, for a fruit not indigenous to Egypt.
The Egyptians found a niche for the Baobab Fruit Pulp in Europe where the powdered extract formed a competitive rival to the tablet terra lemnia, a sacred sealed earth, used to cure those consumed by poison. The Baobab’s famous silhouette has become legendary, generating the common name, “the upside-down tree”, to describe the unusual root-like branches which are seasonally devoid of foliage. Baobabs are found throughout Africa – mostly in the hotter, drier areas and indeed, many people’s first reaction is to marvel at their strange shapes and proportions. With their massive trunks, crooked branches and furry fruit, baobabs have adapted to a dry and hostile environment, and the secret to success may just lay in their appearance. The massive trunk has little wood fiber and can hold up to 300 liters of water, enabling it to live through long periods without rain. The trees have fruit as unique as the tree itself. It may be round or oval shaped and has a fury coating around a hard woody shell that shields a number of seeds rich in citric acid and oil, embedded in a whitish, powdery-soft and nutritious pulp, called “monkey-bread” .
The medicinal uses of the Baobab’s fruit were first officially praisedby Venetian herbalist and physician Prospero Alpini, in 1592, who noted that the ancient Egyptians used it for treating fevers, dysentery and bloody wounds. However, even prior to Alpini’s writings, the fruit has a long history of safe nutritional and medicinal usage in Africa. In traditional medicine, baobab fruit pulp is used to treat fever, diarrhea, malaria, haemoptysis, as a febrifuge, painkiller and in the treatment of smallpox and measles. Cosmetic products are also made from the pulp and leaf extracts.
A cool drink is made out of the pulp which makes for a refreshing break. This lemonade type drink is consumed by both the healthy and the sick. It is also often given as a calming agent for those with a fever, but is also used to combat diarrhea, dysentery, small pox, measles and haemoptysis. Pregnant women in The Gambia use it as an important source of Calcium. In addition, the herding people in Africa used the citric and tartaric acids of the pulp as milk curdling agents.
The baobab fruit pulp is a very important nutritional supplement with interesting medicinal properties and is best-known for its high vitamin C (Ascorbic acid) content and is thus often given as a calming agent against fever. The pulp also contains high values of carbohydrates, calcium, potassium, thiamine and nicotinic acid. Most significant is the Integral Antioxidant Capacity (IAC), which is due to the presence of ascorbic, citric, tartaric, malic and succinic acids. Other essential vitamins present are riboflavin and niacin. In addition, the pulp contains 23% pectin making it an important binding and diluting ingredient. The antioxidants are essential for protection against free radicals, maintenance of metabolic processes, synthesis of steroidal hormones, connective tissues, assisting neurotransmitters and preventing degenerative diseases, as well as increasing the body’s ability to absorb calcium and iron. The pulp has proven to stimulate intestinal microflora making it a potential prebiotic ingredient. Tests have also confirmed its importance as an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antipyretic and analgesic agent.
Botanical name: Adansonia digitata
Common names: Baobab, Monkey Bread Tree, Kremetart tree, Cream of Tartar, Upside-down Tree
The baobab was amongst the first trees to appear on the land. Next came the slender, graceful palm tree. The baobab saw the palm tree and cried out that it wanted to be taller. Then the beautiful flame tree appeared with its red flower and the baobab was envious for flower blossoms. When the baobab saw the magnificent fig tree, it prayed for fruit as well. The gods became angry with the tree and pulled it up by its roots, then replanted it upside down to keep it quiet.
Products are derived from parts of the tree including dried leaves which are rich in carotene, calcium and mucilage. The bark and leaves are also useful in the treatment of fever and are reported to have anti-inflammatory properties. The seed is either pulped and applied externally, or as a drink in water to cure gastric, kidney and joint diseases.
Parts Used Fruit pulp
Baobab 50/50 powder extract (PE) Free flowing depectinised powder Good solubility, clear in solution
Water extract which is spray-dried onto Maltodextrin into a fine hygroscopic powder. Contains no preservatives or colorants.
Plant material used – Adansonia digitata fruct pulv sicc
Appearance – Beige powder
Odour and Taste – Characteristic of Adansonia digitata
Extract solvents – Water
Country of origin – South Africa
Solubility – 0.3 g/100 ml
Moisture – < 5% m/m
Ascorbic acid – 200-300 mg/100g
pH – @15% solution m/m
Thin Layer Chromatography – Compare to references run under the same conditions
Can be used in product formulation to provide nutritional fortification, flavour enhancement, viscosity and texture modification and as a source of dietary fibre and nutrients. Specific applications could include:
– Soft drinks
– Natural fruit smoothies
– Fruit fillings, jams, sauces, puddings and desserts
– Snack bars, breakfast cereals, biscuits and snacks
– Health supplements, botanical extracts including antioxidants
– Various active cosmetic uses, including antioxidants for anti-aging, skin tightening, moisturizers, and hair and nail strengthening products.