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Widespread and common, baobab is a defining icon of African bushland and can grow to an old age. Radiocarbon dating of a baobab in Namibia indicated an age of about 1,275 years, making this the oldest known tree within the angiosperms (flowering plants). All parts of the tree are used by local people, to whom baobab has great social and economic importance.

[KSP]

Kew Species Profiles

General Description

Widespread and common, baobab is a defining icon of African bushland and can grow to an old age. Radiocarbon dating of a baobab in Namibia indicated an age of about 1,275 years, making this the oldest known tree within the angiosperms (flowering plants). All parts of the tree are used by local people, to whom baobab has great social and economic importance.

Common trade routes were often based on the baobab trees growing along the way, and each tree even had its own name. The large, white flowers are pollinated by bats and bushbabies. Elephants often gouge the trunks of baobabs to get at the water inside and can damage mature trees.

It has recently been proposed that the African baobab consists of two species - one very widely distributed lowland species with four sets of chromosomes (Adansonia digitata), and a second, more montane species with just two sets of chromosomes (A. kilima). Some floral differences can be observed, but the hypothesis needs to be tested with wider geographic coverage.

Species Profile
Geography and distribution

Adansonia digitata is widespread in the drier parts of tropical and southern Africa, from Mauritania in the northwest to Sudan in the northeast, and south to South Africa. It is also found in the Arabian Peninsula.

Description

Overview: A massive, deciduous tree with a trunk that can grow to an immense girth. The bark is smooth.

Leaves: Borne at the ends of branches, leaves are usually divided into 5‒7 leaflets attached to a central point.

Flowers: Large (up to 20 cm in diameter), white and pendent on long stalks. Each flower has five free petals and many stamens (male parts).

Fruit: More or less cylindrical and up to 35 cm long and 13 cm wide. Each fruit is filled with mealy pulp containing many small, dark brown seeds, each about 1 cm long and wide. The seeds have a reddish-black seed coat.

Uses

An important indigenous fruit tree, the fruit pulp (rich in vitamin C) is eaten on its own or mixed in porridge and is also used for making soft drinks. Seeds are used as a thickener for soups, and leaves are eaten as a vegetable or in soups.

Fibres from the inner bark are used to make rope and string for basketry, as well as for making beehives. Trunks that have been hollowed by lightning or by humans have been employed imaginatively as a pub, toilet, prison and bus stop. In western Sudan, the trunks were used as water containers. The roots produce a dye.

Roots, bark, leaves, fruits and seeds are used medicinally for an enormous range of ailments, among the more common of which are iron deficiency, digestive system disorders, infections and skin disorders. Baobab is used in both human and veterinary treatments.

Baobab also has some perceived magical uses. For example, it is said that a decoction of the seeds will protect you against crocodiles and that flowers are inhabited by spirits.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

Seven collections of Adansonia digitata are held in Kew's Millennium Seed Bank based at Wakehurst in West Sussex.

See Kew's Seed Information Database for further information on Adansonia digitata seeds

Cultivation

Baobab seeds germinate readily, but seedlings can take a long time to become established, and it may take 16‒23 years until a tree produces its first flowers.

This species at Kew

Alcohol-preserved specimens of Adansonia digitata are held in Kew's Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. 

Specimens of baobab are held in Kew's Economic Botany Collection in the Sir Joseph Banks Building, where they are available to researchers by appointment.

Distribution
Namibia, South Africa
Ecology
Dry bushland, woodland, wooded grassland; often left standing in cultivated areas.
Conservation
Least Concern (LC) according to IUCN Red List criteria; widespread and locally common.
Hazards

None known.

[FSOM]

M. Thulin et al. Flora of Somalia Vol. 1-4 [updated 2008] https://plants.jstor.org/collection/FLOS

Morphology General Habit
Tree up to 20 m or more high, with a very thick trunk; bark smooth, grey; young branches often tomentose
Morphology Leaves
Leaves (3–)5–7(–9)-foliolate; leaflets usually elliptic-obovate, entire, acuminate, 5–17 x 2–7 cm, the inner ones larger than the outer; indumentum stellate, soon disappearing; petiole (4–)7–12 cm long
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Flowers with globose buds, pendulous on long tomentose stalks
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Calyx
Calyx 5–9 mm long, green and tomentose outside, pale and densely pubescent inside
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Petals white, broadly obovate, 4–8 cm long, clawed
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Androecium Stamens
Stamens numerous; tube 1.5–4.5 cm long, about equalling the free part of the filaments in length
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Gynoecium Ovary
Ovary ovoid, tomentose; style 5–6.5 cm long
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Fruit globose to cylindric, up to 35 x 13 cm, densely hairy, filled with a mealy pulp
Morphology Reproductive morphology Seeds
Seeds many, to 13 x 10 mm, smooth.
Distribution
S1–3 widespread in the drier areas of tropical and southern Africa, Yemen and Oman
Ecology
Altitude up to c. 250 m.
Vernacular
Yaaq (Somali)

[KSP]
Use
Foodstuff, medicine, rope-making, basketry.

Native to:

Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina, Cameroon, Caprivi Strip, Central African Repu, Chad, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Gulf of Guinea Is., Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Northern Provinces, Oman, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Yemen, Zambia, Zaïre, Zimbabwe

Introduced into:

Bangladesh, Comoros, India, Madagascar, Mozambique Channel I, Sri Lanka, Vietnam

English
Baobab, Upside-down tree

Adansonia digitata L. appears in other Kew resources:

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status
Jun 1, 1993 s.coll. [457], Nigeria K000452282
Jan 1, 1990 Ngoni, J.F. [505], Botswana K000489244
Sep 25, 1988 Newton, L.E. [727], Ghana K000452271
Sep 25, 1988 Newton, L.E. [727], Ghana K000452272
Sep 25, 1988 Farmar, l. [515], Ghana K000452274
Sep 25, 1988 Perrier de la Bâthie, H. [s.n.], Madagascar K000382591
Sep 25, 1988 Chipp [513], Ghana K000452273
Sep 25, 1988 s.coll. [34], Nigeria K000452279
Sep 25, 1988 Hakki, M. [124], Togo K000452277
Sep 25, 1988 Hakki, M. [727], Togo K000452278
Sep 25, 1988 [Rebbeb] [8702], Botswana K000489243
Sep 25, 1988 Drummond, R.B. [5244], Botswana K000489245
Sep 25, 1988 Thomas, A.S. [2779], Sierra Leone K000452268
Sep 25, 1988 Thomas, A.S. [2626], Sierra Leone K000452269
Sep 25, 1988 Chevalier, A.J.B. [20453], Guinea K000452266
Jan 1, 1988 Baron, R. [35], Madagascar K000382593
Jul 12, 1985 Lowe, J. [4701], Nigeria K000452283
Wild, H. [15721], Zimbabwe 16589.000
Tanner, R.E.S. [1104], Tanzania 22104.000
Freeston, R.C. [35], Nigeria 34496.000
s.coll. [s.n.], Senegal K000452263
Allen, A. [220], Botswana K000489247
Smith, P.A. [1354], Botswana K000489246
Baikie [186], Nigeria K000452280
Deighton, F.C. [2759], Sierra Leone K000452270
s.coll. [Cat. no. 1838] K001114366
Chevalier, A.J.B. [1104], Mali K000452264
Kesby, J.D. [19], Senegal K000452265
Decary, R. [15346], Madagascar K000382592
Morton, J.K. [2083], Ghana K000452275
s.coll. [Cat. no. 1838] K001114365
Giles, E. [s.n.], Cape Verde K000452261
Baum, D. [329], Madagascar K000382594
Chevalier, A.J.B. [21691], Guinea K000452267
Chapman, J.D. [3213], Nigeria K000452284
Ujor, E. [21948], Nigeria K000452281
s.coll. [Cat. no. 1838], India K001114367
s.coll. [Cat. no. 1838] K001114368
Howes [4], Ghana K000452276
Lawesson, J.E. [5371], Senegal K000452262

First published in Syst. Nat. ed. 10 2: 1144, 1382 (1759)

Accepted by

  • Barry, J. P. & Celles, J.S. (1991). Flore de Mauritanie 1: 1-359. Centre Regional de Documentation Pedagogique, Nice.
  • Barthelat, F. (2019). La flore illustrée de Mayotte: 1-687. Biotope éditions.
  • Boudet, G., Lebrun, J.P. & Demange, R. (1986). Catalogue des plantes vasculaires du Mali: 1-465. Etudes d'Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux.
  • Boulvert, Y. (1977). Catalogue de la Flore de Centrafrique 3: 1-89. ORSTROM, Bangui.
  • Catarino, L., Martins, E.S., Diniz, M.A. & Pinto-Basto, M.F. (2006). Check-list da flora vascular do parque natural das Lagos de Cufada (Guiné-Bissau) Garcia de Orta, Série de Botânica 17: 97-141.
  • Darbyshire, I., Kordofani, M., Farag, I., Candiga, R. & Pickering, H. (eds.) (2015). The Plants of Sudan and South Sudan: 1-400. Kew publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Dassanayake (ed.) (1980). A Revised Handbook to the Flora of Ceylon 1: 1-508. Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. PVT. LTD., New Delhi, Calcutta.
  • Edwards, S., Tadesse, M. & Hedberg, I. (eds.) (1995). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea 2(2): 1-456. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia & The Department of Systematic Botany, Upps.
  • Exell, A.W. & Wild, H. (eds.) (1961). Flora Zambesiaca 1(2): 337-581. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Figueiredo, E. & Smith, G.F. (2008). Plants of Angola Strelitzia 22: 1-279. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Figueiredo, E., Paiva, J., Stévart, T., Oliveira, F. & Smith, G.F. (2011). Annotated catalogue of the flowering plants of São Tomé and Príncipe Bothalia, A Journal of Botanical Research 41: 41-82.
  • Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds.) (2003). Plants of Southern Africa an annotated checklist Strelitzia 14: 1-1231. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Ghazanfar, S.A. (1992). An Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Oman and their Vernacular names Scripta Botanica Belgica 2: 1-153.
  • Govaerts, R. (1995). World Checklist of Seed Plants 1(1, 2): 1-483, 529. MIM, Deurne.
  • Hutchinson, J., Dalziel, J.M. & Keay, R.W.J. (1954-1958). Flora of West Tropical Africa, ed. 2, 1: 1-828.
  • Jones, M. (1991). A checklist of Gambian plants: 1-33. Michael Jones, The Gambia College.
  • Lebrun, J.-P., Audru, J., Gaston, A. & Mosnier, M. (1972). Catalogue des Plantes Vasculaires du Tchad Méridional: 1-289. Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort.
  • Lebrun, J.p., Toutain, B., Gaston, A. & Boudet, G. (1991). Catalogue des Plantes Vasculaires du Burkina Faso: 1-341. Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort.
  • Lê, T.C. (2003). Danh l?c các loài th?c v?t Vi?t Nam 2: 1-1203. Hà N?i : Nhà xu?t b?n Nông nghi?p.
  • Mannheimer, C.A. & Curtis, B.A. (eds.) (2009). Le Roux and Müller's field guide to the trees and shrubs of Namibia, rev. ed.: 1-525. Macmillan Education Namibia, Windhoek.
  • Meena, S.L. (2012). A checklist of the vascular plants of Banaskantha district, Gujarat, India Nelumbo 54: 39-91.
  • Mostaph, M.K. & Uddin, S.B. (2013). Dictionary of plant names of Bangladesh, Vasc. Pl.: 1-434. Janokalyan Prokashani, Chittagong, Bangladesh.
  • Mosti, S., Raffaelli, M. & Tardelli, M. (2012). Contributions to the flora of central-southern Dhofar (Sultanate of Oman) Webbia; Raccolta de Scritti Botanici 67: 65-91.
  • Onana, J.M. (2011). The vascular plants of Cameroon a taxonomic checklist with IUCN assessments: 1-195. National herbarium of Cameroon, Yaoundé.
  • Peyre de Fabregues, B. & Lebrun, J.-P. (1976). Catalogue des Plantes Vascularies du Niger: 1-433. Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort.
  • Robyns, W. & al. (eds.) (1948-1963). Flore du Congo Belge et du Ruanda-Urundi 1-10.
  • Sita, P. & Moutsambote, J.-M. (2005). Catalogue des plantes vasculaires du Congo, ed. sept. 2005: 1-158. ORSTOM, Centre de Brazzaville.
  • Thiombiano, A., Schmidt, M., Dressler, S., Ouédraogo, A., Hahn, K. & Zizka, G. (2012). Catalogue des plantes vasculaires du Burkina Faso Boissiera 65: 1-391.
  • Velayos, M., Barberá, P., Cabezas, F.J., de la Estrella, M., Fero, M. & Aedo, C. (2014). Checklist of the vascular plants of Annobón (Equatorial Guinea) Phytotaxa 171: 1-78.
  • Wood, J.R.I. (1997). A handbook of the Yemen Flora: 1-434. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Literature

Kew Species Profiles

  • Beentje, H. J. (1989). Bombacaceae. In: Flora of Tropical East Africa, ed. R. M. Polhill. Balkema, Rotterdam.
  • Beentje, H. J. (1994). Kenya Trees, Shrubs and Lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi.
  • Coates Palgrave, K. (2002). Trees of Southern Africa, 3rd Edition. Struik, Cape Town, Johannesburg.
  • Patrut, A., von Reden, K. F., Lowy, D. A., Alberts, A. H., Pohlman, J. W., Wittmann, R., Gerlach, D., Li, Xu & Mitchell, C. S. (2007). Radiocarbon dating of a very large African baobab. Tree Physiology 27: 1569–1574.
  • Pettigrew, J. D., Bell, K. L., Bhagwandin, A., Grinan, E., Jillani, N., Meyer, J., Wabuyele, E. & Vickers, C. E. (2012). Morphology, ploidy and molecular phylogenetics reveal a new diploid species from Africa in the baobab genus Adansonia (Malvaceae: Bombacoideae). Taxon 61: 1240-1250.
  • Sacande, M., Ronne, C., Sanon, M. D. & Joker, D. (2006). Adansonia digitata L.: Seed Leaflet 109 (pdf). Forest & Landscape Denmark, Denmark.
  • Wickens, G. E. & Lowe, P. (2008). The Baobabs: Pachycauls of Africa, Madagascar and Australia. Berlin, Germany; New York, NY: Springer.

Kew Backbone Distributions

  • Boulvert, Y. (1977). Catalogue de la Flore de Centrafrique 3: 1-89. ORSTROM, Bangui.
  • Catarino, L., Martins, E.S., Diniz, M.A. & Pinto-Basto, M.F. (2006). Check-list da flora vascular do parque natural das Lagos de Cufada (Guiné-Bissau) Garcia de Orta, Série de Botânica 17: 97-141.
  • Darbyshire, I., Kordofani, M., Farag, I., Candiga, R. & Pickering, H. (eds.) (2015). The Plants of Sudan and South Sudan: 1-400. Kew publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Dassanayake (ed.) (1980). A Revised Handbook to the Flora of Ceylon 1: 1-508. Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. PVT. LTD., New Delhi, Calcutta.
  • Edwards, S., Tadesse, M. & Hedberg, I. (eds.) (1995). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea 2(2): 1-456. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia & The Department of Systematic Botany, Upps.
  • Exell, A.W. & Wild, H. (eds.) (1961). Flora Zambesiaca 1(2): 337-581. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Figueiredo, E., Paiva, J., Stévart, T., Oliveira, F. & Smith, G.F. (2011). Annotated catalogue of the flowering plants of São Tomé and Príncipe Bothalia, A Journal of Botanical Research 41: 41-82.
  • Hutchinson, J., Dalziel, J.M. & Keay, R.W.J. (1954-1958). Flora of West Tropical Africa, ed. 2, 1: 1-828.
  • Jones, M. (1991). A checklist of Gambian plants: 1-33. Michael Jones, The Gambia College.
  • Lebrun, J.-P., Audru, J., Gaston, A. & Mosnier, M. (1972). Catalogue des Plantes Vasculaires du Tchad Méridional: 1-289. Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort.
  • Lebrun, J.p., Toutain, B., Gaston, A. & Boudet, G. (1991). Catalogue des Plantes Vasculaires du Burkina Faso: 1-341. Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort.
  • Lê, T.C. (2003). Danh l?c các loài th?c v?t Vi?t Nam 2: 1-1203. Hà N?i : Nhà xu?t b?n Nông nghi?p.
  • Meena, S.L. (2012). A checklist of the vascular plants of Banaskantha district, Gujarat, India Nelumbo 54: 39-91.
  • Mostaph, M.K. & Uddin, S.B. (2013). Dictionary of plant names of Bangladesh, Vasc. Pl.: 1-434. Janokalyan Prokashani, Chittagong, Bangladesh.
  • Mosti, S., Raffaelli, M. & Tardelli, M. (2012). Contributions to the flora of central-southern Dhofar (Sultanate of Oman) Webbia; Raccolta de Scritti Botanici 67: 65-91.
  • Onana, J.M. (2011). The vascular plants of Cameroon a taxonomic checklist with IUCN assessments: 1-195. National herbarium of Cameroon, Yaoundé.
  • Peyre de Fabregues, B. & Lebrun, J.-P. (1976). Catalogue des Plantes Vascularies du Niger: 1-433. Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort.
  • Sita, P. & Moutsambote, J.-M. (2005). Catalogue des plantes vasculaires du Congo, ed. sept. 2005: 1-158. ORSTOM, Centre de Brazzaville.
  • Wood, J.R.I. (1997). A handbook of the Yemen Flora: 1-434. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Flora of Somalia

  • Flora Somalia, Vol 2, (1999) Author: by M. Thulin [updated by M. Thulin 2008]

Art and Illustrations in Digifolia
Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew

Flora of Somalia
Flora of Somalia
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

Herbarium Catalogue Specimens
Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Kew Backbone Distributions
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
© Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
© Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Species Profiles
Kew Species Profiles
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

Plants and People Africa
Common Names from Plants and People Africa http://www.plantsandpeopleafrica.com/
© Plants and People Africa http://www.plantsandpeopleafrica.com http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/