THE BAOBAB TREE
Baobab trees with their huge barrel shaped trunks and wizened bark are synonymous with Africa. They are widespread in tropical, arid and sandy habitats and provide important for food and materials for many tribes.
The tree above is one planted in Mannar, Sri Lanka, by Arab traders back in 1477. It is small relative to many African examples, being only 7.5m high with a circumference of 19.5m. In Africa they can reach up to 25m high and 45m in circumference.
Close up, the bark really does look like the skin of an elephant.
Baobab’s are members of the genus Adansonia. A.digitata above is the most widespread species but there are nine in all. They inhabit arid, sandy and tropical environments. Like other trees in the Bombacaceae family, such as balsa wood, the silk floss tree, kapok and Bombax species, their remarkable barrel shaped or inflated trunks are adapted for water storage.
Nowadays I understand that the latest classification is to merge the Bombacaceae into the Malvaceae, the mallow family. This is because the genetic evidence suggests the Bombacaceae family is not natural and it’s more helpful to think of them all as disparate members of a much larger and diverse group.
I managed to grow this seedling from seeds bought in Paris (see photo). Note that it has entire leaves, not palmate leaves like a mature tree. The seeds look a bit like rough brown aniseed balls, about half a centimetre in diametre. To get them to germinate you have to soak them in boiling water for fifteen minutes, plant them and then wait – often many months. I got one germination out of five seeds, and the seedling did not survive many months on a London window sill.
Perhaps this is the tree I would most like to see, Grandidier’s baobab – Adansonia grandidieri –which is only found in Madagascar. Surely it is one of the botanical wonders of the world.
What a wonderful flora that island has. I’d love to go there and see it!