These very characteristic trees can be found in the southern hemisphere of our globe. They are enormous and long-lived, and their huge trunks provide shelter, food and water for many animals. In recent years we have noted the death of many very old specimens, but it is still unknown what causes tree die-off.
There are 8 species of baobab trees.
Six of them are endemic to Madagascar, one grows in continental Africa and one in Australia.
Baobab species growing in Madagascar have more compact crowns and long, cylindrycal trunks compared to those growing in continental Africa.
Australian Baobab trees most likely appeared in Australia by long-distance seed dispersal from Africa.
Initially it has been thought that baobab trees grew on Australian soil a very long time ago and as a result of the breakup of the Gondwana continent 180 million years ago, the Australian and African populations split up with the drifting continents. However, due to the small differences between the two geographically distant species, it can be concluded that these trees arrived in Australia after Gondwana breakup.
The most common species of baobab tree is the African Baobab (Adansonia digitata).
This species grows up to 25 meters (82 feet) high and the trunk can reach a diameter of 10 to 14 meters (32 to 46 feet).
Baobabs are often called upside-down trees because of the root-like appearance of their tangled branches.
To survive the harsh weather conditions of drought, baobabs store water in their trunk.
Mature trees are able to store 120,000 liters of water.
In mature trees the leaves are palmately compound, but seedlings and regenerating shoots may have simple leaves.
Baobabs have stipules at the base of the leaves, but these are quickly shed in most species.
During the dry season, baobabs shed their leaves just as deciduous trees do in winter across the northern hemisphere.
Baobab flowers are showy, the calyx is made up of 5 petals and is up to 12 centimeters (4,7 inch) in diameter.
When fresh they can be white, creamy or light yellow in color, but they fade quickly and often turn dark red when dried.
Most baobab species are pollinated by bats or lemurs.
Others are pollinated by moths of the Sphingidae family.
The reproductive period of flowers in baobab lasts about 15 hours.
They open around dusk with such speed that this process can be observed with the naked eye. They are open all night and wilt in the morning of the next day.
Baobab tree fruits are very distinctive.
They are large, oval in shape and resemble berries in most species. Fruits are covered by a dry and hard shell that is difficult to crush. Inside the outer shell lie kidney-shaped seeds embedded in dry flesh.
Baobabs provide important nesting sites for some birds.
In particular they are perfect for nesting of the mottled spinetail and four species of weaver.
Elephants know that baobabs store water and especially during the dry season when water is scarce, they seek baobabs to quench their thirst.
Frequent exploitation of baobabs by elephants can lead to serious damage to the plant trunk resulting in the collapse of the tree.
The flesh of the fruit of this plant has a citrus flavor.
It is used to produce refreshing drinks. It is an excellent source of vitamin C, fiber, carbohydrates, potassium and phosphorus.
In Angola, the dried baobab fruits are cooked to make a nutritious broth that is the basis for juices and the region's characteristic ice cream called gelado de múcua.
The oil extracted from the seeds is used in cosmetics industry, mainly in the production of moisturizing creams.
The oldest baobab ever discovered was 2450 years old.
It was named Panke and grew in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately the tree died in 2011.
At the beginning of the 21st century, South African baobabs suddenly began to die.
The cause of this strange phenomenon has not yet been understood. Most scientists rule out disease or parasites, which would not be able to kill so many trees in a short period of time, and tend to favor the theory that dehydration caused by global warming is responsible for the baobab die-off.
All baobab tree species are widely used by local people.
Most species have edible leaves and fruits, which are the basis for making herbal medicine mixtures. Baobab leaves are rich in vitamin C and calcium.
The strong fiber extracted from the bark is used in many places to make ropes and fabrics. The trees also provide raw materials for hunting and fishing tools.
Baobab trunks were oftenly made a burial places, sometimes prisons and even a bar once.
A bar in the trunk of a baobab tree.
In 1993 the owners of Sunland farm decided to open bar and wine cellar in hollow trunk of a baobab tree. One day the bar accommodated as many as 60 guests at a time. It was one of South Africa's more interesting tourist attractions, unfortunately the pub closed in 2017 when the tree trunk split demolishing entire interior.