Baobab trees

In 2007 I was fortunate enough to visit Tanzania and came across the majestic Baobab trees whilst on a safari before climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. I have always had a fascination with them as trees but to see them in real life was amazing as they are colossal and such an important tree within the landscape and a valuable resource to the natural environment.

Growing Baobabs from seed

So typically after returning from my time in Tanzania I wanted to try to grow a Baobab back home in the UK and keep it as a bonsai if possible as I had started the hobby of bonsai back in 2006 and was making steady progress. So I ordered some seeds from Nicky’s seeds and started the process. My first batch in 2008 all germinated and grew well at first. However, I was not sure on how to keep them going over winter and followed the advice I had gleaned and dry stored them over winter in newspaper out of their pots. This was not overly successful and I was unable to get them to start again in the spring of 2009.

I tried again a few times and here were the results of a batch from 2012, all of which I failed to succeed to develop much further sadly but I had fun trying out different techniques and learnt a lot during the process.

In 2014 I had another go and out of a batch of 4 seeds only one germinated fully into a seedling but it did well. The mix for the seeds was around 40% sand, 5% bark, 5% akadama, 5% kiryu, 10% fuji grit, 25% pumice & 10% compost plus slow release granules. This seems to work well with the existing seedlings as well as getting seeds to germinate. I did not cut the terminal shoot this time but just let it grow and this was the result. I noted that for next time, I would plant seeds in larger pot as growth rate exceeded pot size.

However, I was still not able to keep them going beyond around 3 years so took a break from them until lockdown in 2020 and thought I would try again. So I purchased 5 seeds (Adansonia digitata) again from Nicky’s seeds and started them off. Three out of the five came up but with a huge variation in form and size and all three are doing well to date and have made it to 2022 and I plan to re-pot them into larger pots to develop them further. I keep them inside in a warm conservatory all year and have left them in their pots over winter and they all dropped their leave in around December so I reduced the watering down to avoid root rot.

The African Baobab

If you are looking for more information, then get hold of this fabulous book by Rupert Watson as it holds so much information about these amazing living monuments and well worth a read.

The Remarkable Baobab

Another great resource is from the book by Thomas Pakenham who is also an avid fan of the Baobab and the photography is superb with so many wonderful images of Baobab trees. There are some stunning illustrations too alongside a rich history lesson as well some great stories.

Baobab family

Baobab is in the Genus of Malvaceae (formerly Bombacaeae) and there are eight species within the genus.

  • Adansonia digitata (African baobab)
  • Adansonia gibbosa or Adansonia gregori (Australian boab or Bottle or Dead rat-tree)
  • Adansonia grandidieri (Madagascar endemic)
  • Adansonia madagascariensis (Madagascar endemic)
  • Adansonia perrieri (Madagascar endemic)
  • Adansonia rubrostipa (syn A.fony) (Madagascar endemic)
  • Adansonia suarezensis (Madagascar endemic)
  • Adansonia za (syn A. alba) (Madagascar endemic)

The baobab’s bark, leaves, fruit, and trunk can all used as a resource. The bark of the baobab is used for cloth and rope, the leaves for condiments and medicines, while the fruit, called “monkey bread”, is eaten. Sometimes people live inside of the huge trunks and the hollow trunks of living trees have served as storage places, as well as places of worship and even as prisons. The mighty Baobab tree dates back to well over 3000 years ago and some of the remaining trees have girths well in excess of 25 metres. They are pollinated by bats and insects who are attracted to the white blossoms that emit a musky odour and go onto produce enormous seed pods that are then dispersed by mammals including antelope, elephants and monkeys. The seed pod itself contains a white pulp from which ‘cream of tartar’ is derived and used for baking.

The Baobab tree can attain heights of up to 20 metres and the trunk is made up of parrenchy-like tissues saturated with water, and it is estimated that the Baobab can store more than 120,000 litres of water forming a reservoir. Often older trees were hollowed out by machetes and filled up by locals during the rainy season and a tap was inserted and the tree then became the village water tank. However, baobab trees have soft pithy wood that rots easily and can lead to the decline of the tree in the long term. They have short stubby branches that aid in conserving energy and water too with sparse leaves that fall in early autumn. They are an extreme survivor and their roots have the capacity to go in search of water hundreds of feet from the trunk.  This tree like many within the UK provides a valuable natural ecosystem within itself and offers habitat to a wide range of rodents, amphibians, mammals, can live in the crown as well as birds and insects. As the tree matures, more cracks, cavities and holes develop and these provide ideal nesting sites for birds and other creatures. The Baobab is a remarkable feat of nature and has the ability to adapt and survive in semi-arid conditions. However, in order to ensure the legacy of this tree it is now a protected species to ensure its future in our environment.

Photographic tribute to Baobab trees from Tanzania