A symbolic giant in the middle of the driest savannah – the baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) is one of Africa’s most famous plants. The dry savannah is its home. It is naturally widespread in East, South and West Africa, from the Sahel zone to southernmost Africa (there are particularly large populations in Tanzania and Madagascar). The oldest specimens, many of which died suddenly in 2005, are around 2400 years old, but most trees are “only” a few hundred years old.
The Baobab can be recognized by its compact crown and short, thick trunk, which enables it to store water over long periods of drought. Elephants like to use this to poke holes in the soft wood with their teeth and drink the liquid. The outward appearance of the tree can vary depending on the region. Baobabs can grow up to 30 m high and with their branches form a roof over 20 m in diameter.
The round, elongated fruits hang down from the branches on long stems and fall off when they are ripe. The wooden skin protects the valuable fruit flesh from external influences. The fruits can reach a length of up to 40 cm and still have a low weight. This is due to the fact that the flesh dries out completely already inside the fruit. The white-beige fruit flesh is highly appreciated by animals and humans because of its sweet-smoky taste and valuable ingredients. Because of its ingredients, the baobab fruit pulp is also used locally for medical purposes, e.g. for diarrhoea, which is why the baobab tree is also known as the “apothecary tree” in Tanzania. Its ingredients make baobab also interesting for athletes (Minerals and trace elements for athletes: Importance of Moringa and Baobab).
From the small, hard, black fruit kernels, the valuable baobab oil is cold-pressed and can be used in many ways in cosmetics. The leaves and stem fibers are also used locally as food and for the production of ropes and mats.
Since baobab trees only bear fruit after about 20 years, they cannot be cultivated commercially. When baobab fruit powder is exported, it is therefore usually fruit from wild stocks. This often helps the local population to stop cutting down the trees and to actively protect them, as they see this as a new source of income. Of course, it is important to buy Baobab products from fair trade.
Many legends and myths surround the Baobab tree, also known as the baobab tree. Mostly it had and still has a religious meaning for the local population, which is why there are still many groups of trees near villages. In the book “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the reader also becomes acquainted with the baobab tree. There the little prince worries that baobabs could overgrow his small asteroid and blow it up with their roots:
“The baobabs begin by being small before they grow big.”