Adansonia digitata

Family: Bombaceae

In Swahili this tree is called mbuyu. In English it is usually called baobab. This tree needs no introduction: it is the instantly recognizable upside-down Tree of Life. It is found in a broad range of vegetation types, commonly on fertile soil with a high water table. Only the juvenile can be confused with related species. The bark is a showy metallic pink when young, becoming grey and wrinkled like an elephant’s hide as it ages. Almost always the tree has just one trunk, which becomes hollow yet very swollen with stored water as the tree ages. The leaves are clustered at the ends of stout branches with 3-9 leathery, dark green leaflets like a hand (digitate). The leaves only last for about 4 months, so the tree is usually bare, with its crown resembling a root system. The showy white flowers appear in October through to January. They have an unpleasant smell that attracts bats and flies for pollination. The green, velvety woody seed pods ripen slowly. Inside there is acidic, floury pulp and coarse fibres around the hard seeds. The timber is very soft and is not used.

Villagers boil the pulp to make a drink, which has a very high vitamin C content. Small packets of the pulp, dyed a bright colour to attract children, are a common sight on Tanzanian stalls. Older trees are often still the sites of traditional rites.