Adansonia digitata, the baobab, is the most widespread of the Adansonia species on the African continent, found in the hot, dry savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa. It also grows, having spread secondary to cultivation, in populated areas. The northern limit of its distribution in Africa is associated with rainfall patterns; only on the Atlantic coast and in the Sudan does its occurrence venture naturally into the Sahel. On the Atlantic coast this may be due to spreading after cultivation. Its occurrence is very limited in Central Africa and it is found only in the very north of Southern Africa. In Eastern Africa the trees grow also in shrublands and on the coast. In Angola and Namibia the baobabs grow in woodlands, and in coastal regions, in addition to savannahs. The trees usually grow as solitary individuals, and are large and distinctive trees on the savannah, in the scrub, and near settled areas, with some large individuals living to well over a thousand years of age.
The tree bears very large, heavy white flowers. The showy flowers are pendulous with a very large number of stamens. They carry a carrion scent and researchers have shown they appear to be primarily pollinated by fruit bats of the subfamily Pteropodinae. The fruits are filled with pulp that dries, hardens, and falls to pieces which look like chunks of powdery, dry bread.
The specific epithet digitata refers to the fingers of a hand, which the five leaflets (typically) in each cluster bring to mind.
The baobab is a traditional food plant in Africa, but is little-known elsewhere. It has been suggested that the vegetable has the potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare.
It is called "Momret" in the Tigrigna language of Ethiopia, where it favors lowland areas with moist and well-drained soils, such as the valley of the Tekeze River lowlands. A. digitata is called "Kuka" by the Hausa speaking people of West Africa. In Nigeria it is a very popular tree in the savannahs up North and it leaves used to prepare local soup called "miyan kuka".
In 2008, the EU approved the use and consumption of baobab fruit as an ingredient in cereal bars and smoothies. A nonprofit organization, PhytoTrade Africa, plans to market the fruit for the benefit of around 2.5 million of the poorest families in southern Africa.
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