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‘Boab’ tree in Australia, formerly used as a prison © Simon Espley

The baobab tree is a strange looking tree that grows in low-lying areas on the African mainland, Madagascar and Australia. It can grow to enormous sizes, and carbon dating indicates that they may live to be 3,000 years old. They go by many names, including boab, boaboa, tabaldi, bottle tree, upside-down tree, monkey bread tree, and the dead-rat tree (from the appearance of the fruit).

So, do you love baobabs as much as we do?

Well, here we provide some interesting facts about your favourite African tree:

1. There are eight species of the baobab tree (genus Adansonia) – six from Madagascar and one each from mainland Africa and Australia.

2. The baobab’s biggest enemies are drought, waterlogging, lightning, elephants and black fungus.

3. Baobabs are deciduous, and their bat-pollinated flowers bloom at night.

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4. Baobabs store large volumes of water in their trunks – which is why elephants, eland and other animals chew the bark during the dry seasons.

5. Humans utilise baobabs for many purposes, including shelter, ceremonies, food, medicine, fibre, juices and beer.

6. Animals like baboons and warthogs eat the seed pods; weavers build their nests in the huge branches; and barn owls, mottled spinetails and ground-hornbills roost in the many hollows. The creased trunks and hollowed interiors also provide homes to countless reptiles, insects and bats.

This massive baobab tree in Gonarezhou, Zimbabwe, was used by an infamous poacher to store ivory and rhino horn. The tree is known locally as ‘Shadreck’s Office’ ©Simon Espley

7. Cream of tartar (a cooking ingredient) was initially produced from the acidic baobab seed pulp but is now mainly sourced as a by-product from the wine-making process.

baobab seed pod
A baobab seed pod © Simon Espley

8. The massive trunks (the largest circumference on record is 47 metres) have been, or are used, as jails, post offices and bush pubs, amongst other creative uses.

9. Many baobabs live to a ripe old age – with one recently collapsed Namibian tree known as “Grootboom” thought to be 1,275 years old.

Prison ‘boab’ tree in Australia © Simon Espley

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