Twisted, bloated, yet often displaying otherworldly beauty, the ancient Baobab tree has survived and spread by adapting to some of the world’s harshest environments, in the process separating into 8 distinct species. This closer look at the bulbous, bottle-shaped Baobab reveals some interesting food for thought, not to mention the body.
African Baobab (Adansonia digitata)
Admit it, you thought the Baobab was an African tree… and you’re correct but only to a point. Baobab trees come in eight different varieties (species, for scientific types) spread across three continents and the island of Madagascar. The most common and widespread member is Adansonia digitata, the “African Baobab”, found in the more arid parts of the African continent and also in Yemen and Oman on the Arabian peninsula.
(image via: Scott Hanko)
African Baobabs can grow up to 25m (82ft) tall and their water-absorbent trunks can spread up to 12m (40ft) in diameter. Their heavy flowers are yellowish-white and can exude a carrion scent, though they’re usually pollinated by Fruit Bats. Speaking of which, Baobab fruit is rich in trace elements, vitamins and nutrients – many consider it a “superfruit“, a term that doubtless has already attracted marketers’ attention.
Grandidier’s Baobab (Adansonia grandidieri)
Named after the French explorer/botanist Alfred Grandidier (1836–1921), Grandidier’s Baobab is one of the six Baobab species native to the island of Madagascar. Considered to be Endangered by IUCN, Grandidier’s Baobab is the largest species found on Madagascar and the upper branches of outstanding specimens can reach as high as 30m (close to 100ft) into the sky.
Possessed of smooth, reddish-grey bark, Grandidier’s Baobab can be found in relative abundance in western Madagascar near Morombe and Morondava. This photogenic species is a favorite of artists and photographers seeking to illustrate guides to Madagascar or highlight its ethereal and unique beauty.
(image via: Wandering Trader)
Case in point: the magnificent Avenue of the Baobabs, a stand of 20-25 mostly mature Grandidier’s Baobabs straddling a dirt road in western Madagascar’s Menabe region.
Boab (Adansonia gregorii)
The Boab, or Australian Baobab, is the only Baobab species found in Australia and though it doesn’t usually grow very tall (5 to 15m, or 16 to 50ft on average), it shares its species predilection for wide, thick, water-storing trunks. Most Australian Baobabs can be found growing in Western Australia’s Kimberley region with isolated specimens ranging eastward into arid portions of the country’s Northern Territory.
Australian Baobabs make up for their lack of height by achieving prodigious widths of up to 5m (16ft), on occasion broken up into clustered yet connected trunks. Several hollowed-out Boabs served as “prison trees” in the 19th century and some are still standing, such as the Boab Prison Tree (above) located just south of Derby in Western Australia.
Madagascar Baobab (Adansonia madagascariensis)
The Madagascar Baobab is, somewhat unusually for baobabs, found in dry or moist deciduous forests instead of stereotypical savannah scrubland. Its habitat may be less arid but these 5 to 20m (16 to 65ft) tall trees still stand out from their forest brethren by their bloated, smooth-barked trunks and dark red flowers.
(image via: laetitia.navarro)
Rated “Near Threatened” by IUCN, Madagascar Baobabs can be found in the island’s northwestern Mahajanga province ranging towards Madagascar’s northern tip.