Baobab flower 50 years

A photograph supposedly showing a pagoda flower is frequently shared on social media along with the claim that it only blooms once every 400 years in the Himalayas:

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It’s not a cabbage 🥬 but Tibet’s unique “Pagoda Flower”. I was sent this by a dear friend. It is the auspicious Mahameru flower that blooms once every 400 years in the Himalayas. Apparently lucky to see it and will give you a lifetime of good luck – now thats worth sharing! Have a wonderful evening all. Lots love cxxx 💖💖💖 . #mahameruflower #goodluck #auspicious #beautyinbloom ✨💖💖💖

A post shared by Ching He Huang (@chinghehuang) on Oct 30, 2019 at 11:30am PDT

This picture does not show such a flower (nor the “auspicious Mahameru flower”) but rather a plant called the Rheum nobile. While this large plant is native to the Himalayas, it does not bloom once every 400 years.

The above-displayed photograph was taken by Martin Walsh near Daxue Mountain in Yunnan, China. We’re not exactly sure when it was taken, but it was the featured picture for a 2011 newsletter from the Alpine Garden Society. The plant in the foreground is a Rheum nobile, which can grow to more than 1 meter tall, sitting next to its “cousin” plant, the Rhus delavayi:

The scenically stunning Da Xue Shan (Big Snow Mountain) proved to be an absolute treasure house of gorgeous plants including meconopsis, lilies, fritillaries, incarvilleas, pedicularis, primulas, corydalis and others.

The most imposing was the amazing rhubarb, Rheum nobile (see front cover) dwarfing its cousin, R. delavayi, which stands at a mere 15cm. Among the corydalis, C. benecinta was outstanding and Martin‟s lovely photo of Primula dryadifolia (see p.5) makes us wish we could grow it.

The Alpine Garden Society’s Instagram page contains a few additional pictures of the Rheum nobile:

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Quite a few of you were fascinated by the recent photo of Rheum nobile shared from our China tour. Here’s a closer look at the plant – demonstrating how the flowers are covered by the white bracts. This keeps the flowers 4-6°C warmer in the alpine climate and helps ripen the seed. The plant dies after flowering. . . . . . #rheumnobile #rheum #chinaflowers #chineseflora #wildflowers #alpineflowers #alpineplant #alpinelandscape #mountainflowers #plants #plantlove #plantgeek #travel #china #planthunting #horticulture #botanicaltour

A post shared by Alpine Garden Society (@alpinegardensociety) on Jul 9, 2019 at 2:30am PDT

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A post shared by Alpine Garden Society (@alpinegardensociety) on Jun 26, 2019 at 7:03am PDT

Interestingly, a plant called pagoda flower does exist. The flower (Clerodendrum paniculatum) is native to southeast China and produces huge spikes of coral-pink to reddish-orange, butterfly-shaped flowers that bloom from mid-summer well into fall, not every 400 years:

This is hardly the first time a rumor about a flower that only blooms once every 400 years in the Himalayas has circulated on social media. In 2018, a nearly verbatim copy of this text was attached to a different picture of a flower. That rumor claimed it was the “ahameru Pushpam,” or arya pu, not the pagoda flower:

This is the flower which is known as “Mahameru Pushpam” or Arya Pu. It’s seen in Himalaya. It flowers once in 400 years. If we wanted to see it again need to wait for another 400 years. So our generation is lucky. So please share maximum. Let others to see it.

Again, this photograph was mislabeled. It actually showed a Protea cynaroides, or the king protea, which grows in South Africa.

In September 2019, a nearly identical rumor was circulated about a “mahameru flower”:

And once again, the picture was mislabeled. This photograph actually showed a species of cactus called Carnegiea gigantea.

We also investigated a similar rumor back in 2016. That one focused on a flower supposedly called the “nagapushpa flower” and claimed that it bloomed once every 36 years. However, that rumor used a photograph of a marine invertebrate known as a sea pen.

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Wednesday – December 17, 2008

From: Bridgewater, MA
Region: Northeast
Topic: Best of Smarty, General Botany
Title: Is there a flower that blooms only once in seven years?
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Just wanted to know if there exists a flower that blooms only once in seven years? Thank you!

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants has found the Himalayn lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum) that flowers after seven years of growth. Here are photos of the Himalayan lily. After it blooms the plant dies. Plants with this reproductive strategy are known as monocarpic, i.e., they flower and produce fruit only once in their lifetime and then die. All annuals and biennials are monocarpic, but there are also many perennial plants that are monocarpic. Some of these may live for 90 years before flowering and then dying. Some of the more notable examples are the Agaves or Century Plants (e.g., Agave americana (American century plant) and Agave parryi (Parry’s agave)) of the desert Southwest. Another spectacular example from the southwestern U. S. is the Monument Plant (Frasera speciosa) and another beautiful plant in the western U.S. Scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata) is also monocarpic. In Hawaii Haleakala Silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense) flowers only once in its lifetime of 15-50 years. Many bamboo species are also monocarpic and, additionally, all members of a particular bamboo species bloom simultaneously.

From the Image Gallery

American century plant
Agave americana
Parry’s agave

Agave parryi
Elkweed
Frasera speciosa
Scarlet gilia
Ipomopsis aggregata

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Baobab

Baobab. Parfuri area

Name

Baobab
Other names include boab, boaboa, tabaldi, bottle tree, upside-down tree, and monkey bread tree.

Latin Name

Adansonia digitata

Description

All Baobabs are deciduous trees ranging in height from 5 to 20 meters. The Baobab tree is a strange looking tree that grows in low-lying areas in Africa and Australia. It can grow to enormous sizes and carbon dating indicates that they may live to be 3,000 years old. One ancient hollow Baobab tree in Zimbabwe is so large that up to 40 people can shelter inside its trunk. Various Baobabs have been used as a shop, a prison, a house, a storage barn and a bus shelter. The tree is certainly very different from any other. The trunk is smooth and shiny, not at all like the bark of other trees, and it is pinkish grey or sometimes copper coloured.When bare of leaves, the spreading branches of the Baobab look like roots sticking up into the air, rather as if it had been planted upside-down. Baobabs are very difficult to kill, they can be burnt, or stripped of their bark, and they will just form new bark and carry on growing. When they do die, they simply rot from the inside and suddenly collapse, leaving a heap of fibres, which makes many people think that they don’t die at all, but simply disappear.An old Baobab tree can create its own ecosystem, as it supports the life of countless creatures, from the largest of mammals to the thousands of tiny creatures scurrying in and out of its crevices. Birds nest in its branches; baboons devour the fruit; bush babies and fruit bats drink the nectar and pollinate the flowers, and elephants have been known to chop down and consume a whole tree. A Baby Baobab tree looks very different from its adult form and this is why the Bushmen believe that it doesn’t grow like other trees, but suddenly crashes to the ground with a thump, fully grown, and then one day simply disappears. No wonder they are thought of as magic trees.

Flowers and Fruit

The Baobab tree has large whitish flowers which open at night. The fruit, which grows up to a foot long, contains tartaric acid and vitamin C and can either be sucked, or soaked in water to make a refreshing drink. They can also be roasted and ground up to make a coffee-like drink. The fruit is not the only part of the Baobab that can be used. The bark is pounded to make rope, mats, baskets, paper and cloth; the leaves can be boiled and eaten, and glue can be made from the pollen.

Uses

Fiber from the bark is used to make rope, baskets, cloth, musical instrument strings, and waterproof hats. While stripping the bark from the lower trunk of most trees usually leads to their death, baobabs not only survive this common practice, but they regenerate new bark. Fresh baobab leaves provide an edible vegetable similar to spinach which is also used medicinally to treat kidney and bladder disease, asthma, insect bites, and several other maladies. The tasty and nutritious fruits and seeds of several species are sought after, while pollen from the African and Australian baobabs is mixed with water to make glue.

Native legends

Along the Zambezi, the tribes believe that when the world was young the Baobabs were upright and proud. However for some unknown reason, they lorded over the lesser growths.The gods became angry and uprooted the Baobabs , thrusting them back into the ground, root upwards. Evil spirits now haunt the sweet white flowers and anyone who picks one will be killed by a lion. One gigantic baobab in Zambia is said to be haunted by a ghostly python. Before the white man came, a large python lived in the hollow trunk and was worshipped by the local natives. When they prayed for rain, fine crops and good hunting , the python answered their prayers. The first white hunter shot the python and this event led to disastrous consequences. On still nights the natives claim to hear a continuous hissing sound from the old tree.In the Kafue National Park in Zambia, one of the largest Baobabs is known as ‘Kondanamwali’ – the tree that eats maidens. This enormous tree fell in love with the four beautiful girls who lived in its shade. When they reached puberty, they sought husbands and made the tree jealous. One night, during a raging thunderstorm, the tree opened its trunk and took the maidens inside. A rest house had been built in the branches of the tree. On stormy nights, it is the crying of the imprisoned maidens that make people inside tremble – not the sounds of the wild animals.Along the Limpopo, it is believed that when a young boy is washed in water used to soak baobab bark, he will grow up into a big man. Some native beliefs have proven to have a scientific basis. Natives believe that women living in kraals where baobabs are plentiful have more children than those living outside baobab zones. They eat soup made from baobab leaves, which is rich in vitamins. This compensates for any deficiency in their diet. Doctors have confirmed that this indeed brings about a higher fertility rate.The African bushman has a legend that tells of the god Thora. He took a dislike to the Baobab growing in his garden, so he threw it out over the wall of Paradise on to Earth below, and although the tree landed upside-down it continued to grow. It is not surprising that such a strange looking tree should have superstitions linked to it. Some people believe that if you pick a flower from a Baobab tree you will be eaten by a lion, but if you drink water in which a Baobab’s seeds have been soaked you will be safe from crocodile attack. Certain tribes in the Transvaal wash baby boys in water soaked in the bark of a baobab. Then, like the tree, they will grow up mighty and strong.

Where they are found

Baobabs are widely distributed in belts across Africa. They also grow in Madagascar, India, Ceylon and Australia. They grow in many areas of Zimbabwe. In the Northern Province they are found between the Limpopo and the Zoutpansberg range. Messina is indeed a Baobab town. There is a famous `halfway Baobab’ between Louis Trichardt and Messina, a reservoir from which many have drawn. Baobabs seem to prefer hot, sandy plains.

9 Fascinating baobab tree facts

‘Boab’ tree in Australia, formerly used as a prison © Simon Espley

The baobab tree is a strange looking tree that grows in low-lying areas in Africa, Madagascar and Australia. It can grow to enormous sizes, and carbon dating indicates that they may live to be 3,000 years old. They go by many names, including boab, boaboa, tabaldi, bottle tree, upside-down tree, monkey bread tree, and the dead-rat tree (from the appearance of the fruit).

So, do you love baobabs as much as we do?

Well, here we provide some interesting facts about your favourite African tree:

1. There are nine species of the baobab tree (genus Adansonia) – six from Madagascar, two from Africa and one from Australia.

2. The baobab’s biggest enemies are drought, waterlogging, lightning, elephants and black fungus.

3. Baobabs are deciduous, and their bat-pollinated flowers bloom at night.

4. Baobabs store large volumes of water in their trunks – which is why elephants, eland and other animals chew the bark during the dry seasons.

5. Humans utilise baobabs for many purposes, including shelter, ceremonies, food, medicine, fibre, juices and beer.

6. Animals like baboons and warthogs eat the seed pods; weavers build their nests in the huge branches; and barn owls, mottled spinetails and ground-hornbills roost in the many hollows. The creased trunks and hollowed interiors also provide homes to countless reptiles, insects and bats.

This massive baobab tree in Gonarezhou, Zimbabwe, was used by an infamous poacher to store ivory and rhino horn. The tree is known locally as ‘Shadreck’s Office’ ©Simon Espley

7. Cream of tartar (a cooking ingredient) was initially produced from the acidic baobab seed pulp but is now mainly sourced as a by-product from the wine-making process.

A baobab seed pod © Simon Espley

8. The massive trunks (the largest circumference on record is 47 metres) have been, or are used, as jails, post offices and bush pubs, amongst other creative uses.

9. Many baobabs live to a ripe old age – with one recently collapsed Namibian tree known as “Grootboom” thought to be 1,275 years old.

Prison ‘boab’ tree in Australia © Simon Espley

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Nine of 13 of Africa’s oldest and largest baobab trees have died in the past decade, it has been reported. These trees, aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years, appear to be victims of climate change. Scientists speculate that warming temperatures have either killed the trees directly or have made them weaker and more susceptible to drought, diseases, fire or wind.

Old baobabs are not the only trees which are affected by climatic changes. Ponderosa pine and Pinyon forests in the American West are dying at an increasing rate as the summers get warmer in the region. In Hawaii the famous Ohi’a trees are also dying at faster rates than previously recorded.

There are nine species of baobab trees in the world: one in mainland Africa, Adansonia digitata, (the species that can grow to the largest size and to the oldest age), six in Madagascar, and one in Australia. The mainland African baobab was named after the French botanist Michel Adanson, who described the baobab trees in Senegal.

The African baobab is a remarkable species. Not only because of it’s size and lifespan but also in the special way it grows multiple fused stems. In the space between these stems (called false cavities) bark grows, which is unique to the baobab.

Since baobabs produce only faint growth rings, the researchers used radiocarbon dating to analyse samples taken from different parts of each tree’s trunk and determined that the oldest (which is now dead) was more that 2,500-years-old.

Adansonia digitata can get to 2,500-years-old. Bernard Dupont/Flickr, CC BY-SA

They also have more than 300 uses. The leaves, rich in iron, can be boiled and eaten like spinach. The seeds can be roasted to make a coffee substitute or pressed to make oil for cooking or cosmetics. The fruit pulp has six times more vitamin C than oranges, making it an important nutritional complement in Africa and in the European, US and Canadian markets.

Locally, fruit pulp is made into juice, jam, or fermented to make beer. The young seedlings have a taproot which can be eaten like a carrot. The flowers are also edible. The roots can be used to make red dye, and the bark to make ropes and baskets.

Baobab fruit: Author provided

Baobabs also have medicinal properties, and their hollow trunks can be used to store water. Baobab crowns also provide shade, making them an idea place for a market in many rural villages. And of course, the trade in baobab products provides an income for local communities.

Baobab trees also play a big part in the cultural life of their communities, being at the centre of many African oral stories. They even appear in The Little Prince.

A spiritual force.

Cultivating baobab

Baobab trees are not only useful to humans, they are key ecosystem elements in the dry African savannas. Importantly, baobab trees keep soil conditions humid, favour nutrient recycling and avoid soil erosion. They also act as an important source of food, water and shelter for a wide range of animals, including birds, lizards, monkeys and even elephants – which can eat their bark to provide some moisture when there is no water nearby. The flowers are pollinated by bats, which travel long distances to feed on their nectar. Numerous insects also live on the baobab tree.

Easy to fit inside.

Ancient as they are, baobab trees can be cultivated, as some communities in West Africa have done for generations. Some farmers are discouraged by the fact that they can take 15-20 years to fruit – but recent research has shown by grafting the branches of fruiting trees to seedlings they can fruit in five years.

Many “indigenous” trees show great variation in fruit morphological and nutritional properties – and it takes years of research and selection to find the best varieties for cultivation. This process, called domestication, does not refer to genetic engineering, but the selection and cultivation of the best trees of those available in nature. It seems straightforward, but it takes time to find the best trees – meanwhile many of them are dying.

The death of these oldest and largest baobab trees is very sad, but hopefully the news will motivate us to protect the world’s remaining large baobabs and start a process of close monitoring of their health. And, hopefully, if scientists are able to perfect the process of identifying the best trees to cultivate, one day they will become as common in our supermarkets as apples or oranges.

Adansonia digitata

Large baobab trees with hollow stems have been used by people for centuries for various purposes including houses, prisons, pubs, storage barns, and even as bus stops! A big tree in the old Transvaal region is recorded as once being used as a dairy. Another tree near Leydsdorp was used as a bar (known as the Murchison Club) and utilized by prospectors and miners during the gold rush of the late 19th century. One such tree in the Caprivi Strip was converted into a toilet, complete with a flushing system.

Rainwater often collects in the clefts of the large branches, and travelers and local people often use this valuable source of water. It has been recorded that in some cases the centre of the tree is purposely hollowed out to serve as a reservoir for water during the rainy season. One such reservoir was recorded as holding 4 546 litres of water. A hole is drilled in the trunk and a plug inserted so that water can be easily retrieved by removing the plug. The roots of the baobab can also be tapped for water.

African honey bees (Apis mellifera) often utilize hollows in the baobab to make their hives. One can often see a ‘ladder’ of pegs hammered into the trunk which is used by seasonal honey harvesters to gain access to the hives.

The leaves are said to be rich in vitamin C, sugars, potassium tartrate, and calcium. They are cooked fresh as a vegetable or dried and crushed for later use by local people. The sprout of a young tree can be eaten like asparagus. The root of very young trees is also reputed to be edible. The seeds are also edible and can also be roasted for use as a coffee substitute. Caterpillars, which feed on the leaves, are collected and eaten by African people as an important source of protein. Wild animals eat the fallen leaves and fresh leaves are said to be good fodder for domestic animals. The fallen flowers are relished by wild animals and cattle alike. When the wood is chewed, it provides vital moisture to relieve thirst. Humans as well as certain animals eat it in times of drought.

There are many legends and superstitions surrounding the baobab tree. For example, it is believed that an elephant frightened the maternal ancestor of the baobab. In some parts the baobab is worshipped as a symbol of fertility. It is a belief among certain people that spirits inhabit the flowers of the baobab and that any person who picks a flower will be eaten by a lion. It is also believed that water in which the seeds have been soaked will offer protection against attack by crocodile, while sucking or eating the seeds may attract crocodiles. It is also believed that a man who drinks an infusion of the bark will become strong. In some areas a baby boy should be bathed in such a bark infusion, as this will make him strong; however, he should not be bathed for too long or he may become obese. It is also important that this water does not touch his head for this could cause it to swell. When inhabitants move from one area to another they often take seeds of the baobab with them, which they plant at their new homestead.

The bark on the lower part of the trunk often bears scars caused by local people who harvest and pound it to retrieve the strong fibre. The fibrous bark is used to make various useful items such as mats and ropes, fishing nets, fishing lines, sacks as well as clothing. Although the bark is often heavily stripped by people and elephants, these trees do not suffer as a normal tree would from ringbarking. Baobabs have the ability to simply continue growing and produce a new layer of bark. The wood of the baobab is soft, light yellow and spongy, and although it has been recorded as being used for making boxes, this does not seem to be a widely used practice.

Many references have made mention of the exceptional vitality of this tree, noting that even after the entire tree is cut down it simply resprouts from the root and continues to grow; the same is noted of trees which have been blown over in storms. Despite this remarkable vitality, when a tree dies it collapses into a heap of soggy, fibrous pulp. Stories exist of how such quickly decomposing trees spontaneously combust and get completely burnt up.

More than 260 years ago baobabs were apparently successfully grown in England and had reached heights of 5-6 m, but were all destroyed in the heavy frosts of 1740. Surprisingly few baobabs have found their way into cultivation, possibly due to their reputation of being exceptionally slow growing.

The baobab was declared a protected tree under the Forest Act in South Africa in 1941.

Determining the age of baobabs: Much speculation in literature over many years have made certain estimates of the age of certain large trees and their rate of growth. More recent work using carbon-dating techniques as well as the study of core samples showing growth rings, suggest that a tree with a diameter of 10 m may be as old as 2000 years.

  • Baobab trees can live for over 3,000 years. When they die, they rot inside and suddenly collapse.
  • The trees resist drought, fire and termites. They regrow their bark if it is stripped.
  • They are known as upside down trees because their branches look like roots.
  • Some people believe that if you pick a flower from a baobab tree you will be eaten by a lion. But if you drink water in which baobab seeds have been soaked, you will be safe from a crocodile attack.

Where it grows

This baobab is native to tropical African countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique. Its natural habitat is hot, dry woodland on stony, well-drained soils, in areas that receive low rainfall. Baobabs have also been planted in India and Australia.

Common uses

In Africa most parts of the baobab are eaten:

  • Fruits: the pale powder that covers the black seeds inside the fruits tastes sharp and tangy, and is added to many sauces and drinks. This fruit powder is rich in Vitamin C and B2, and therefore offers health benefits, especially for pregnant women, children and the elderly, and is said to help fight fevers and settle the stomach. Get our baobab smoothie recipe.
  • Leaves: an excellent source of protein, minerals and vitamins A and C. They are eaten fresh and also dried, milled and sieved to make a green powder that is used to flavour drinks and sauces.
  • Seeds: used to thicken soups, or fermented to use as a flavouring, or roasted to be eaten as snacks.

Find out how we’re sourcing baobab from rural producers in Malawi to help provide them with a sustainable future.

Conservation story

Although Adansonia digitata is reasonably common, many other baobab species are under threat. Out of the eight species, six are found in Madagascar, all of which are red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to habitat destruction through extensive agriculture.

Wildlife facts

  • As the flowers emerge in the evening, they are pollinated by bats and nocturnal insects such as moths.
  • The trunks can hold thousands of litres of water, and elephants sometimes tear the trees down to get to the moisture inside.

Useful Links

  • BBC Radio 4 podcast about baobab, featuring Eden’s own baobab tree
  • Seven Natural Wonders of the World: Avenue of Baobabs
  • Baobab Superfruit website
  • Phytotrade Africa: promoting sustainable baobab production

Glossary

  • Amphisarca: indehiscent fruits with many cells and seeds, pulpy flesh, and a hard rind.
  • Digitate: individual leaflets arising from a common point or centre, like the fingers of a hand.
  • Globose: spherical.
  • Ovoid: three-dimensionally egg-shaped with broader end at base.
  • Pendulous: hanging down.

Baobabs are trees recognisable by their distinctive swollen stems.

There are nine species of baobab trees.

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.

It was introduced in ancient times to south Asia and during the colonial era to the Caribbean.

Its natural habitat is hot, dry woodland on stony, well-drained soils, in areas that receive low rainfall.

The lifespan of the baobab is very long. It is difficult to age them without radio carbon dating as they don’t produce annual growth rings. There are many specimens over 1,000 years old. One in South Africa was dated at around 6,000 years old.

Baobabs reach heights of 5 to 30 meters (16 to 98 feet) and have trunk diameters of 7 to 11 meters (23 to 36 feet).

Its trunk can hold up to 120,000 liters (32,000 US gallons) of water which is an adaptation to the harsh drought conditions of its environment. The tree may be tapped in dry periods.

The cork-like bark is reddish brown to grey, soft and possesses longitudinal fibers. The bark is fire resistant and are used for making cloth and rope.

Leaves simple to digitate, with up to 9 green and glossy leaflets but usually 5. All baobab trees are deciduous, losing their leaves in the dry season, and remains leafless for nine months of the year.
The leaves are an excellent source of protein, minerals and vitamins A and C. It is used as condiments and medicines.

During the early summer (October to December in southern hemisphere) the tree bears very large, heavy, white flowers. These are 12 cm (4.7 in) across and open during the late afternoon to stay open for one night. The pendulous, showy flowers have a very large number of stamens. They have a sweet scent but later emit a carrion smell, especially when they turn brown and fall after 24 hours.

The tree’s fruits are large pods known as ‘monkey bread’ or ‘cream of tartar fruit’ and are rich in vitamin C. The fruit has a velvety shell and is about the size of a coconut, weighing about 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lb). It has a somewhat acidic flavour, described as ‘somewhere between grapefruit, pear, and vanilla‘.

The Glencoe baobab, a specimen of A. digitata in 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 height is 17 m (56 ft), and the spread of crown is 37.05 m (121.6 ft). In November 2009 the tree split in two parts.

So the widest individual trunk may now be that of the Sunland baobab, 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). In 1993 artifacts of Bushmen and first white settlers were found in the hollows of the Baobab when the farm’s owners cleaned out the tree. This tree became a popular tourist attraction
after 1993 when the owners of Sunland farm established a bar and wine cellar in its hollow trunk.

It is not unusual for old baobabs to become hollow inside with increasing age. The niches and caves have served humans and animals alike for many thousands of years. People used the tree for protection, shelter and even housing. They took advantage of the cavities as storage facilities, to protect their livestock, to hide during enemy attacks or to defend themselves.

The baobab tree is known as the tree of life, with good reason. It can provide shelter, clothing, food, and water for the animal and human inhabitants of the African savannah regions.

Adansonia digitata native to the African continent is the most widespread of all baobab species.

The baobab is the national tree of Madagascar.

Adansonia grandidieri, sometimes known as Grandidier’s baobab, is the biggest and most famous of Madagascar’s six species of baobabs. They can reach 25 to 30 m (82 to 98 ft) in height.

The African and Australian baobabs are almost identical despite having separated more than 100 million years ago, probably by oceanic dispersal.

Elephants like to eat the bark of the baobab during the dry season to obtain moisture from the trunk’s reserves. The Baobab does not suffer from ring barking and can regrow bark if damaged by elephants.

Baobabs are important as nest sites for birds, in particular the mottled spinetail and four species of weaver.

Along the Zambezi, the tribes believe that baobabs were upright and too proud. The gods became angry and uprooted them and threw them back into the ground upside-down. Evil spirits now cause bad luck to anyone that picks up the sweet white flowers. More specifically, a lion will kill them.

In contrast, some people think that if one drinks from water in which baobab seeds have soaked, you will be safe from crocodile attacks.

The African bushman legend states that Thora, the god, took a dislike to the baobab growing in his garden. Therefore, he threw it over the wall of Paradise onto the Earth below. The tree landed upside down and continued to grow.

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.”

Baobab Tree Facts

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The baobab is one of nature’s oldest and oddest trees. Capable of living for thousands of years, this deciduous tree has a peculiar growth structure consisting of a massive, bottle-shaped trunk and relatively sparse canopy. Native to Madagascar, Africa, and Australia, the baobab grows in tropical and semi-tropical climates experiencing little or no freezing temperatures.

Identification

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Baobab (Adansonia digitata) is a tree consisting of nine species native to the dry, hot savannas of Australia, Africa and the island of Madagascar. The tree grows 40 to 75 feet tall and has a trunk measuring 35 to 60 feet in diameter. Radiocarbon dating computes the age of some baobabs as being more than 2,000 years old.

Baobab trees begin flowering at 20 years of age, becoming covered in midsummer with saucer-sized white, crinkly blossoms with puffy, purple stamens. Emitting a strong, musky odor at night, the blooms attract fruit bats and various insects. The seeds are located in pods, and the resulting fruit is gray, hairy and gourd-like, resembling hanging rats.

Features

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The baobab’s thick trunk is soft and fleshy and often filled with hollows, making the tree home to a wide variety of animals, including various birds, lizards, squirrels, tree frogs, snakes, scorpions, spiders and insects. The tree’s cavities are large enough to hold humans. Missionary explorer David Livingstone described in a report a baobab whose hollow trunk housed 20 to 30 men. Another baobab served as the town jail in Queensland, Australia.

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Baobab is grown as a specimen tree in parks and used as a street tree throughout tropical areas of the world, such as India and South America. In its native lands, all parts of the unusual tree are used. In Africa, the pulp is made into a lemonade-like drink, the vitamin-C rich leaves are eaten, and the roots are cooked and eaten or used to make red dye. The tree’s inner bark provides a strong fiber used to make rope, clothing and musical instrument string. Canoes are also carved out of the tree’s trunk.

Growing Requirements

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The baobab tree requires a full-sun location with plenty of room to grow. The drought-tolerant tree needs good drainage to thrive. Avoid watering baobab during rainy times of the year.

Lore

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Legend has it that the baobab tree looks like it does because the devil yanked the tree out of the ground and shoved it back into the earth upside down, leaving the tree’s roots sticking up in the air, according to William Chaney of Purdue University.

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