By: Jackie Carroll
The large, white flowers of the baobab tree dangle from the branches on long stems. Find out more about baobabs and their unusual flowers in this article.
Native to the African Savannah, baobabs are best suited to warm climates. The trees are also grown in Australia and sometimes in large, open estates and parks in Florida and parts of the Caribbean.
The tree’s overall appearance is unusual. The trunk, which can be 30 feet (9 m.) in diameter, contains a soft wood that is often attacked by a fungus and hollows it out. Once hollow, the tree can be used as a meeting place or dwelling. The interior of the tree has even been used as a jail in Australia. Baobabs can live for thousands of years.
The branches are short, thick, and twisted. African folklore holds that the unusual branch structure is the result of the tree’s constant complaining that it didn’t have many of the attractive features of other trees. The devil yanked the tree out of the ground and shoved it back in top first with its tangled roots exposed.
Additionally, its strange and eerie appearance made the tree ideal for its starring role as the Tree of Life in the Disney film Lion King. Baobab flower blooming is another story altogether.
You can think of an African baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) as a self-indulgent plant, with flowering patterns that suit itself, but not the desires of people. For one thing, baobab flowers are stinky. This, combined with their tendency to open only at night, make baobab flowers difficult for humans to enjoy.
On the other hand, bats find baobab flower blooming cycles a perfect match for their lifestyle. These night-feeding mammals are attracted by the malodorous fragrance, and use this feature to find the African baobab trees so they can feed on the nectar produced by the flowers. In exchange for this nutritious treat, the bats serve the trees by pollinating the flowers.
The flowers of the baobab tree are followed by large, gourd-like fruit that is covered with gray fur. The fruit’s appearance is said to resemble dead rats hanging by their tails. This has given rise to the nickname “dead rat tree.”
The tree is also known as the “tree of life” for its nutritional benefits. People, as well as many animals, enjoy the starchy pulp, which tastes like gingerbread.
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Nationality: South African
Occupation: Computer Tech
Residence: Dallas, Texas
Date of Performance/Collection: 5/1/13
Other Language(s): Afrikaans, English
“The Baobab tree, also known as the upside-down tree, is a strange looking tree that grows in low-lying areas in Africa and Australia. The Baobab is also called the upside-down tree because when bare of leaves, the spreading branches of the Baobab look like roots sticking up into the air, as if it had been planted upside-down. Legend holds that god Thora took a dislike to the Baobab growing in his garden, so he threw it out over the wall of Paradise on to Earth below, and although the tree landed upside-down it continued to grow. Another story goes that when the Baobab was planted by God, it kept walking, so God pulled it up and replanted it upside down to stop it moving. Bushmen believed that any person who plucks the flowers will be torn apart by lions, because there are spirits in the flowers. When water is drunk, in which the Baobab’s pips have been soaked, this serves as protection from crocodiles and the drinker will be mighty.”
The three items of folklore I collected from this informant were the only three out of all the items in my collection that were not a result of face to face interaction. The text above was sent to me, from the informant, via email. I also corresponded with the informant over the phone to receive the context behind her stories. That said, the informant, who lived most of her life in South Africa (she moved to Dallas, Texas with her family in the 90’s), heard all of these stories about the Baobab trees from the trackers who would lead the safaris she went on in South Africa. The trees did not grow where she grew up near Johannesburg.
In the first two stories about the tree, I see an expression of the traditional subject of minor myths explaining why things are the way they are. In the folk beliefs of the bushmen, however, I see an intense tie to their surroundings. The tree, for them, is an extremely important part of their relationship with nature. In addition to these stories, the informant sent me some factual information about the tree: “The Baobab has a special role in Africa. Elephants, monkeys and baboons depend on its fruit (the vitamin C content of one fruit is the equivalent of 4 oranges) bats pollinate them by crashing into the flowers while chasing insects bush babies also spread the pollen the pollen can be used as glue the seeds are rich in protein, calcium, oil and phosphates – they can also be roasted and ground like coffee beans young leaves have a high calcium content and can be used as spinach the trunk is fibrous and can be woven into rope mats and paper beer and tea can be made from the bark, but you need a strong constitution to drink either.” These facts demonstrate the many ways in which the tree is used, by humans and animals alike. That said, all of these things the tree does augments the tie between it and the bushmen that is expressed in the stories.
Baobabs are long-lived deciduous, small to large trees with broad trunks and compact crowns. Young trees usually have slender, tapering trunks, often with a swollen base. The trunk is made of fibrous wood arranged in concentric rings. Tree diameter fluctuates with rainfall so it is thought that water may be stored in the trunk.  Baobab trees have two types of shoots—long, green vegetative ones, and stout, woody reproductive ones. Adansonia gregorii is generally the smallest of the baobabs, rarely getting to over 10 m tall and often with multiple trunks.  Both A. rubrostipa and A. madagascariensis are small to large trees, from 5 to 20 m (16 to 66 ft) tall.  The other baobabs grow from 25 to 30 m (80 to 100 ft) tall, with 2 to 3 m (7 to 10 ft) diameter trunks. A. digitata however often have massive single or multiple trunks of up to 10 m (33 ft) diameter. 
Leaves are palmately compound in mature trees, but seedlings and regenerating shoots may have simple leaves. The transition to compound leaves comes with age and may be gradual. Leaflets may have toothed or smooth edges and may be hairless or have simple to clumped hairs. Baobabs have stipules at the base of the leaves, but the stipules are soon shed in most species. 
Flowers are born near the tips of reproductive shoots, in the axils of the leaves. There is usually only a singe flower in an axil, but sometimes flowers occur in pairs. They are large, showy and strongly scented. They only open near dusk. Opening is rapid and movement of the flower parts is fast enough to be visible. Most Adansonia species are pollinated by bats.  Flowers may remain attached to the trees for several days, but the reproductive phase is very short, with pollen shed during the first night and stigmas shriveled by the morning. The flower is made up of an outer 5-lobed calyx, and an inner ring of petals set around a fused tube of stamens.  The calyx is usually green (brown in A. grandidieri Baill.)  and made up of 5 lobes that in bud are joined almost to the tip. As the flower opens, the calyx lobes split apart and become coiled or bent back (reflexed) at the base of the flower. Sometimes the lobes do not separate cleanly, distorting the shape of the flower as they bend back. The calyx lobes remain fused at the base, leaving a feature (calyx tube) that has nectar-producing tissue and that is cup-shaped, flat or tubular the form of the calyx tube varies with species.  The flowers have a central tube (staminal tube) made up of fused stalks of stamens (filaments), with unfused filaments above. A densely hairy ovary is enclosed in the staminal tube, and a long style tipped with a stigma emerges from the filaments. Petals are set near the base of the staminal tube and are variable in shape and colour. The flowers, when fresh, may be white, cream, bright yellow or dark red, but fade quickly, often turning reddish when dried. 
The fruit of the baobabs is one of their distinguishing features. It is large, oval to round, and berry-like in most species (usually less than 10 centimetres (3.9 in) long in A. madagascariensis.  ). It has a dry, hard outer shell of variable thickness. In most species, the shell is indehiscent (does not break open easily). A. gibbosa is the only species with fruits that crack while still on the tree, which then tend to break open upon landing on the ground. Inside the outer shell, kidney-shaped seeds are set in a dry pulp. 
A graduate in botany, Nithya Venkat enjoys writing about plants that help sustain life on planet Earth.
The Baobab Tree is an ancient relic that is more than 6000 years old and was probably there before the birth of Christ. These trees are found in countries such as Africa, Australia, India, Oman, and Yemen. The Baobab Tree is the national tree of Madagascar.
This tree is called "The Tree of Life." It provides food, water, and shelter to people, animals, and birds. All the parts of the Baobab Tree are used for different purposes. The Baobab Tree stores water, which is very useful when water sources run dry.
The Baobab Tree has a unique appearance. The tree looks as though it is planted upside down when the branches have no leaves, hence the name the “Upside down” tree. The branches are stick-like and resemble a network of roots rather than branches. This tree is also referred to as the “monkey bread” tree. Other names referring to this tree are - Boab, Boaboa, Bottletree.
About the Baobab Tree
The Baobab Tree belongs to the genus Adansonia and has eight species. It grows to heights of about 5-30 meters. The diameter of the trunk is about 7 -11 meters. This tree is leafless for about nine months in a year.
The trunk of the Baobab Tree can hold up to 120,000 liters of water. This water can be tapped during dry periods. The trunk of the Baobab Tree is thick, stout, and very strong. It is fire-resistant. The trunk of a mature Baobab Tree is hollow and provides shelter to animals and birds.
The Baobab Tree flowers for the first time in about twenty years. It usually blooms in mid-summer at sunset. The flowers are white in color and luminous. The flowers are large, pendulous, and have many stamens.
The flowers have a strong musky smell that attracts fruit bats and other insects. The fruit bats and insects are responsible for pollination as they flit from flower to flower. The life of the flower is very short and falls off after a few hours.
Taking care of a baobab is simple. The sturdy exotic plant loves warm, sunny and bright location. Larger specimens survive longer drying sessions. Seedlings, on other hand need more water and should be kept moderately moist. Baobab tree if grown successfully, rewards you not only with its ornamental thick trunk and rich green leaves, but also with large white flowers and edible fruits.
Knowing how to grow a baobab tree is not as difficult as overwintering it especially if you’re living in extremely cold climate. You’ll need to do a lot of care to overwinter it.
Place it indoors, in a bright and warm position near a windowsill. Try to keep temperature around 10 C, lower than this will stunt baobab.
In winter, baobab tree drops its leaves and goes to dormancy. During this time water sparingly, watering in winter can cause root rot.
Also stop to fertilize. In the spring, place it back at its usual location. Resume watering when buds begin to swell.
If you are growing baobab trees in pot, repotting is necessary. The growth of baobab roots is very strong. Therefore, the tree requires enough space to unfold. Repot baobab when plants seems root bound, roots starts to appear on upper surface.
The baobab tree can be pruned throughout the year except winter. It’s easy, simply remove the shoots, which are located under the main crown. If possible, make a cut near bud. So a new bud of the branch will be ensured.
In order to cut individual branches summer is the ideal time.
There are many stories and traditions involving baobab trees. Along the Zambezi River, many tribes believe that the baobab once grew upright, but considered itself so much better than the lesser trees around it that eventually the gods decided to teach the baobab a lesson. They uprooted it and planted it upside down, in order to stop its boasting and teach the tree humility.
In other areas, specific trees have stories attached to them. Zambia's Kafue National Park is home to a particularly large specimen, which the locals know as kondanamwali – 'the tree that eats maidens'. According to legend, the tree fell in love with four local girls, who shunned the tree and sought human husbands instead. In revenge, the tree pulled the maidens into its interior and kept them there forever.
Elsewhere, it is believed that washing a young boy with water that has been used to soak baobab bark will help him to grow strong and tall while others hold the tradition that women living in a baobab area are likely to be more fertile than those living in an area with no baobabs. In many places, the giant trees are recognized as a symbol of community and are used as a gathering place for ceremonies and rituals.
The Order of the Baobab is a South African civilian national honor, instituted in 2002. It is awarded annually by the president to citizens for distinguished service in the fields of business and the economy science, medicine, and technological innovation or community service. It was named in recognition of the baobab's endurance, and its cultural and environmental importance.
This article was update and re-written in part by Jessica Macdonald on December 3 2019.
Growing baobab trees is a bit tricky.
Why? Because the germination rate of these seeds is quite low.
In a nutshell, growing it like other seeds does not work.
So here is how to grow the baobab tree at home.
Scratch the hard shell of the seeds and soak it in the water for 1-2 days.
Place the seeds in a moist towel or kitchen tissue for a couple of days, preferably in a container.
Mix coarse river sand with regular soil or cactus and put it in the pot with at least 10cm depth.
Sow the seeds in the soil mix and cover it with a thick 2cm layer of coarse river sand, and finally water it.
It needs regular water, but not too often. Watering twice or thrice a week is sufficient.
They need bright sunlight. So you may place it on the terrace, balcony, or garden.
Since its indigenous to the African deserts, the temperature should be high around it, like above 65°F.
Grown at the top mighty trees and dry from the inside, yet baobab fruits are rich in nutrients like no other fruit.
Not only the pulp, but the tiny seeds are edible as well.
The benefits of baobab powder to your diet can help you prevent heart diseases, improve the digestive system, lose weight, and maintain blood sugar levels.
Have you eaten baobab fruit hitherto? How was the taste then? Let us know in the comments section below.