649 Adansonia digitataCommon Names: baobab, dead-rat tree, bottle tree, monkey-bread tree Family: Bombacaceae (bombax or baobab Family)
The African baobab tree is one of the plant kingdom's strangest (if not most grotesque) wonders. The tree is not particularly tall growing up to 70 ft (21.3 m) tall but the trunk is massive: as much as 35 ft (10.7 m) in diameter and shaped like a bottle. The trunk is in fact used to store water during dry periods. It's not uncommon for old trees to have several huge trunks branching off near the ground, and a tree 60 ft (18.3 m) tall can have a spread of more than 100 ft (30.5 m). The palmately compound leaves are clustered at the ends of short, stocky branches. Baobab is a deciduous tree, losing its leaves in the dry season. At the end of the dry season, the baobab blooms with large white flowers that hang down on long stalks. The flowers are 4-5 in (10.2-12.7 cm) across and have waxy crinkled petals about 4 in (10.2 cm) long that surround dense clusters of purple stamens that look like powder puffs. The flowers open only at night and are pollinated by bats feeding on the nectar. The pendant fruits are velvet covered, gray and gourdlike, about a foot long, and apparently look like dead rats hanging from the tree by their tails.
The Adansonia digitata baobab is native to much of Africa, from the dry sub-Saharan scrub to the grassy savannas of South Africa. It is grown as a street and park tree in the tropics of both hemispheres.
CultureLight: Full sun. Moisture: Baobab is very drought tolerant, and needs no water at all during the winter. Despite its adaptations to dry climates, baobab will thrive in rainy climates provided it has a well drained soil. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 12. Baobab will tolerate a little frost during its dormant season. It probably can be grown, with occasional winter protection, in zone 10A. Propagation: Baobab usually is propagated by seeds sown as soon as they are ripe. It also can be started from cuttings.
In Africa, the young leaves of baobab are eaten as a vegetable, the pulp within the fruit is used to make a lemonade-like drink and a fiber is made from the bark. Dugout canoes are carved from the massive trunks of baobab trees, and hollow trunks have been used for shelter.
Baobabs are used as street trees and in estates and city parks in the Old and New World tropics, especially in India and South America. There are a few fine old specimens in estates and parks in southern Florida and the Caribbean. Baobabs are strikingly beautiful as dominant, attention grabbing specimens. Not for the small garden!
There are nine species of Adansonia: one grows in Australia, one in Africa, and seven are restricted to the island of Madagascar.
Steve Christman 3/22/00; updated 6/25/04, 7/17/05, 1/6/08