Botany and Distribution

The baobab tree (Adansonia digitata L.) is a member of the Bombacaceae family. This family is a subfamily of Malvaceae. Adansonia is a genus of eight species of tree (a ninth species is discussed), six native to Madagascar (A. grandidieri, A. madagascariensis, A. perrieri, A. rubrostipa, A. suarezensis, A. za (14)), one native to mainland Africa (A. digitata) and one to Australia (A. gibbosa). Baobab trees are widespread throughout the hot and drier regions of tropical Africa. The figure shows the distribution of the trees in Africa (1, 15, 40).

Name

The baobab is known by a larg number of names. In English the tree is known as "Baobab", "Monkey bread tree", "Upside-down tree" or "Cream of tartar tree". "Monkey bread tree" because monkeys love the fruits and "Upside-down tree" because the branches looks like roots (1).

Other common names are in Arabic "Buhibab" (fruit of numerous seeds) or in Portuguese "Cabaçevre". Furthermore the trees are known as "Bak", "Mnambe", "Yag", "Sumpura", "Bamba"... (13).

The Latin name Adansonia honours Michel Adanson, the French naturalist. Digitata refers to the fingers of a hand, which the leaflets bring to mind.

Age

The problem with baobab trees are that they doesn't have clear growth rings. Early authors calculated an age of 5.000 years. Later the authors concluded that large trees must be over 2.000 years. Radio-carbon dating from the heartwood of a tree which grows in Zimbabwe determinated an age of 1.000 years (15). Today it is known that very large baobabs are often a few hundred years old (1).

There was a radiocarbon analysis in 2011 with samples from the Glencoe Baobab (South Africa). The age of the tree is 1835 +/- 40 years (50).