African baobab: Impres­sive giant

Because of its size and distinctive shape the African Baobab tree belongs to the most iconic plants of Southern Africa. In our blog you can learn more about this impressive giant.


The African Baobab (Adansonia digitata) originates from the family of the Bombacoideae and ranks due to its size and striking form among the most well-known plants of tropical Africa. The species name digitata (fingered) refers to the leaves of the tree, which consist of five to nine individual leaves and remind one of the fingers of a human hand.

The Baobab has a rather small, but very thick trunk. The treetop is formed by strong branches, which branch out very widely and thus form extended crowns. Without leaves, the branches seem to resemble a root system, which is why legend has it that the Baobab was planted upside down by the devil.


The actual roots of the tree extend about 1.5 meters deep into the ground. The horizontal orientation is longer than the height of the tree, one also speaks of lateral roots. The Baobab periodically sheds its leaves. Shortly before the rainy season in early summer they sprout and develop within four weeks.

The flowers of the tree are large and white and hang down from the leaf axils. They have between 700 and 1,500 stamens, which diverge radially from the centre of the flower. Even if the flowers have an unpleasant, sweet scent of carrion for humans, they are all the more attractive for various flying fox species, galagos and moths. These serve as natural pollinators for the Baobab. The large fruits (up to 40 cm) and their kidney-shaped seeds are eaten by elephants, antelopes and baboons. The white, cotton wool-like flesh is also edible for humans. Due to its high vitamin C content, it has a slightly sour taste.


Elephants use the wood of the Baobab as a water reservoir. With its mighty tusks, they knock deep holes into the thick bark and tear out parts of the moist and fibrous wood in order to chew it afterwards and to win the water from it. In areas where the density of elephant populations is very high, Baobabs are quite endangered because their natural succession, i.e. their regrowth, is not sufficient to compensate for the elephant's influence.

Due to its size and thickness, the age of the baobab tree is often overestimated. David Livingstone who discovered the tree estimated the age of a mighty Baobab he found on the Zambezi at 4000 years. Later investigations showed that only a few trees are older than 400 years. However, it is estimated that the giants can reach an age of up to 2000 years. As part of a Natucate field guide training, a safari tour or volunteer project in Africa you get the chance to experience the impressive tree giants yourself.


Peter Schütt (Hrsg.): Bäume der Tropen. Die große Enzyklopädie. Nikol Verlagsgesellschaft, Hamburg 2004

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