Baobab

Baobab
Setswana Name: 
Mowana
Scientific Name: 
Adansonia digitata
Family: 
Baobab family (Bombacaceae)

Description

Undoubtedly this magnificent colossus is the most frequently-discussed botanical phenomenon in Africa and its pre-historic appearance provides for one of the most dramatic landscapes Africa has to offer. Some specimens were possibly around before the birth of Christ, making them the oldest living relics of ancient times. Although many people think the Baobab tree is unique to Africa, six different species of Baobabs occur on the island of Madagascar, one of which is the same species that occurs in Africa.

The origin of the name "Baobab" is to be found in the Egyptian name "Bu hobab", given to it by Cairo merchants who traded in exotic products in that city during the 16th century. Dr. David Livingstone referred to the Baobab as "that giant upturned carrot", which is an apt description of the tree, as the enormously thick trunk and the comparatively slender branches create that image. It also reminds one of the root-system of a tree, which gave rise to the colloquial term of the "upside-down tree". The average stem diametre of a large Baobab is about 5m, but specimens with a diametre of up to 9m are not uncommon. One of the largest Baobabs in Southern Africa has a circumference of 46,8m (152 ft).

The pinkish-grey bark, the digital (finger-like) leaves, the large ovoid pods and the magnificent white flowers are further identifying features. On poor, shallow soil, thick roots radiate from the stem and are sometimes visible above the ground as much as 10m from the tree. Young trees are difficult to recognise as they have simple, instead of digitally compound leaves. This difference has given rise to the Bushman belief that there are no young Baobabs, and that fully developed specimens are flung from paradise. Being top-heavy, they land with their roots in the air. The authenticity of this belief is supported by their claims that thuds of falling Baobabs are clearly audible from time to time!

Bark

It is faintly glossy and pinkish-grey in colour. Usually smooth, but forms lumps and bulges which resemble congealed wax.

Leaves

The leaves of seedlings and very young trees are simple, but on mature trees they are palmately compound with five or sometimes seven leaflets. Borne close together at twig terminals, leaflets on average 10 x 4cm; usually elliptic, margin entire, sparsely pubescent but less so in older leaflets.

Flowers

Large (up to 12cm diametre) with snow-white, waxy, crumbled petals and a central column consisting of fused stamens through which the style protrudes.

Fruits

Large (up to 24 x 12cm), ovoid to sub-globose, buff-grey, tomentose, hard, contain large number of seeds embedded in a very light, floury pulp, seeds bean-shaped and dark brown.

Flowering

October to December

Fruiting

April to May

Distribution

The baobab tree can be found anywhere in Botswana north from the Tropic of Capricorn. An outstanding specimen of this tree is to be found at Dombo Hippo Pools in Moremi.