Baobab Tree: Facts About Cream of Tartar Tree, Fruit, Grow Potted Baobabs

Woman looks at a Baobab tree and wonders what makes the African tree and Baobab fruit so special and what is a baobab tree (Madagascar tree), and are there growing and planting tips for growing it in a pot?

The continent of Africa is native home to some of the most impressive floral specimens on earth, one of which is the Baobab Tree.

Although many species native to Africa have spread across the world and are now relatively ubiquitous, many have not.

Some species can only thrive in specific environments and thus have remained representative of the African continent and its diversity.

This guide explains one of those unique species, the Baobab tree, and what makes this Cream of Tartar tree so awesome and unique.

It also explains how you can grow a smaller version in pots at your home.

African Tree: What Is a Baobab Tree?

What is a baobab tree? Baobab is a genus of tree native to Africa and Australia.

Due to its prominence in southern Africa and especially Madagascar,7 it has become a distinctive symbol of the region.

The species is prized for its old age, dating from the Mesozoic era, and for the potential age of its individual specimens.

Baobab Tree


A Baobab Tree in an oval frame on a green background.
  • Family: Malvaceae, subfamily Bombacoideae
  • Genus: Adansonia
  • Leaf: Baobab leaves can have as many as five to ten leaflets, although the leaves of younger trees may be rounded. Their surface nature varies with species. All species are deciduous.
  • Bark: Baobab bark is usually a shade of gray and quite smooth, even in enormous specimens.
  • Seed: Baobab seeds are contained within the fruit. They are rarely eaten. They are designed only to germinate under certain conditions such as after a fire or passing through an animal.
  • Blossoms: Baobab Tree flowers are beautiful and short lived. They commonly consist of petals which unfurl to reveal a staminal tube with stamens on top. They are commonly pollinated by fruit bats.
  • Fruit: Baobab Tree fruits are oval and resemble large berries. Their flesh is considered a superfood.
  • Native Habitat: Baobabs are native to Australia and southern Africa, including Madagascar.
  • Height: Baobab Trees can reach heights of around 98 feet tall. They are true giants.
  • Canopy: Compared to other species, the Baobab tends to have a proportionally small canopy to height ratio. However in many species, the canopy diameter can still significantly exceed the tree height.
  • Type: Deciduous
  • Native Growing Zone: Baobab Trees are considered hardy in growing zones 10-12.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Critically Endangered


Image Credit: 752394419

Baobabs can live for thousands of years. The species is visually distinguished by its massive trunks, which can actually be multiple stems fused together around a hollow ring, and by its sparse upper canopy.

African Baobab Tree (Adansonia digitata)

The Baobab Tree is native to Africa, being found in high densities in Madagascar, and Australia. Now the tree has also been introduced into other regions such as Asia, but it is still considered one of Africa’s most distinctive plants.

Perhaps the most iconic of all African flora is the Baobab Tree.8 It has been known as the African Tree of Life.

Baobab is a common name given to all 8 species of the genus Adansonia. The genus takes its name from the French explorer Michel Adanson who described the genus Adansonia digitata and introduced it into the European classification system in the 1700s.

However, the earliest written report we have about the tree was in fact from an Arab traveler Ibn Batuta in the 14th century, and we have a written description from Egypt in the 16th century. The trees were called Baobab. When Adanson’s report with illustrations made it back to Europe, legendary botanist Carl Linnaeus recognized it as the Baobab but renamed the genus after the French explorer.

This Adansonia genus is included within the Malcaceae family and Bombacoideae subfamily.1

The tree also has other common names including the Cream of Tartar tree (in reference to the fruit pulp), and the Upside Down Trees Africa, because the tree’s upper foliage in fact resembles roots, it has been called one of the visually weird trees. There are a variety of African myths that explain the curious appearance.1

Baobab Tree Symbolism

The Baobab Tree symbolism has a lot of deep meanings across various cultures. It has been seen as an emblem of the extreme and exotic African flora, also of the country of Madagascar itself.

It has also been seen as a symbol of power and strength.

Huge Baobab tree with a stout trunk and leafy branches in a forest.

(Image: baechi16)

But perhaps most of all it is seen as a tree of life. Its drought-tolerant water-holding capacity makes it a reservoir both for itself and for animals, including humans.

The ‘Tree of Life’ in The Lion King was a Baobab for a reason.2

Baobab Tree Myths

Some of the myths by which the Baobab Tree is called the Upside Down Tree are as follows.

Some tribes on the Zambezi River held the belief that there was a time when the Baobabs were so large and proud that the gods turned them upside down with their roots in the air to punish them for their pride. Another myth holds that in prior days the trees had in fact been walking between continents, and so God upended them to stop their wandering.

Another story goes that the god Thora didn’t like the tree growing in his garden, so he picked it up and cast it out. It fell down onto the earth and landed upside down.

Along with myths explaining the tree’s appearance, a variety of African myths hold that the tree in fact has special properties.2

Baobab Tree History

Baobab Tree species have been around longer than humans. In fact, the genus has been estimated by scientists to be over 200 million years old.

This means that it was populating the conjectured supercontinent known as Pangea when most of Earth’s landmass was arranged into one island.

So the species itself is extremely old, and individual specimens can live for thousands of years. How long it takes to grow Baobab Tree can be millennia.

Precise dating is difficult, as Baobab Trees don’t produce reliable growth rings in their trunks. The only way to have a precise idea of the age is carbon dating.

Carbon dating can be used on virtually all plants. It works because, when a plant or part of a plant dies, it stops absorbing carbon, specifically carbon 14.

Carbon 14 then breaks down into carbon 12 at a known rate. So scientists can take a sample of the tree’s oldest dead wood matter, then compare the proportion of carbon 14 to carbon 12 for an accurate dating process.

With carbon dating, some African Baobab Trees have been dated to be around 2500 years old.1

How To Identify Baobab Tree

Knowing how to identify Baobab Tree is not usually a challenge. They are only native to specific regions of Africa, including Madagascar, and Australia.

And most trees are very distinctive. Firstly they are usually tall when mature, reaching heights of 30 meters and trunk circumferences of 15 meters.

Baobab Tree identification chart showing mature Baobab Tree, Baobab seeds, Baobab flowers, Baobab fruits, and Baobab bark images on a green background.

The largest of the circumferences on record is 47 meters. With this trunk size, Baobabs have an enormous amount of wood, up to 500 cubic meters.

Another identifying factor is the ‘upside-down’ appearance. When the branches are bare, they are said to resemble a root system.

Baobab Tree Trunk

The trunk is often the biggest of the parts of a tree by mass. The Baobab’s long trunk is one of its most distinctive features.

When the Baobab is young, it can have a relatively slender trunk, usually fatter towards the bottom and tapering towards the top. The wood is quite fibrous and, like that of many trees, is arranged in concentric rings.

The Baobab rings, however, are not formed on a reliably annual basis, so they cannot be used for accurate dating. The trunk diameter swells with rainfall because Baobab Trees store water in their trunks.

Baobab Tree stem can even be ten meters in diameter. Often the stem will appear as a ring with a hollow cavity in the middle.

Sometimes the cavity could be a result of the decay of the tree’s oldest wood. But often the cavity is a special quality of the A. digitata.

This species can actually grow multiple stems and fuse them together, creating a ring of three to eight stems fused around an empty core. This is obviously more common in older trees.

In some places, these massive tree cavities have been used as structures by indigenous populations.

The trees have two kinds of shoots, the stronger, woodier reproductive shoots, and long vegetative ones which usually appear greener. Branches can be enormous, suiting the stems, and are usually either at a perpendicular or ascending angle to the stem.

The bark is most often gray and relatively smooth.

Baobab Tree Leaves

In mature Baobab, the leaves are usually palmate which means they resemble a hand with off-shooting. Baobab Tree leaves can have around five to ten little leaflets.

However, younger specimens and younger shoots on older trees may have more simple leaves. Depending on the species though, the leaflets can be jagged or smooth, with or without hair.

All Baobabs are deciduous,9 meaning during their dry season leaves are shed, giving the ‘upside-down’ look.

Baobab Tree Flower

Baobab Tree flowers are usually born on a short stalk in the axil of a leaf towards the tip or a reproductive shoot. Axils usually produce one but rarely will produce two flowers.

They are very large and distinctive and will stay on the tree for several days. These flowers usually open at dusk, and the opening is fast enough to be understood by an observer.

Almost all Baobabs are pollinated by bats, though the reproductive phase of the tree is very short. Pollen is shed during the first night of the flower and the stigmas shrivel up by daybreak.

Baobab flowers have an outer calyx with five lobes and an inner petal ring around a tube of fused stamens. The outer lobes are most commonly green but brown in some species.

As the flower blossoms and the lobes of the calyx separate, they usually bend all the way back toward the base, exposing the insides which can be whitish, pink, or even red. When the flowers dry they often turn red.

The lobes remain attached at the base when they bend back which means they offer a sort of cup, flat, or tube shape with tissue that produces nectar. This can vary according to species.

The inner tube is made up of fused stamens, although of course, the top filaments are separate. The tube also contains the ovary and the filaments produce the style.

The petals come from the base of this staminal tube and can display a variety of shapes and colors. To identify flowers in North America, consult this article on white flowering trees identification.

The flowers also emit a distinctive smell that can be similar to rotting meat, this attracts the fruit bat, its main vehicle of tree pollination.1

Baobab Fruit (Cream of Tartar Tree)

All Baobab Trees develop large round indehiscent baobab fruits. The Baobab Tree fruit vary widely in shape although are always rounded with a woody outer shell.10

They can reach lengths of 10 inches. The shell is quite thick and houses beige, pulpy flesh, and kidney-shaped seeds, and this also gives the tree the name of “cream of tartar tree”

The pulp inside is considered to be a ‘superfood.’ People say it tastes like a fascinating combination of grapefruit pear and vanilla.

For human consumption, the pulp is usually dried and then blended into smoothie-type products, like drinks or ice creams. It is rich in a number of important vitamins and minerals, along with antioxidants and amino acids.

In North America the fruit can be found in many forms such as oil, dried pulp, and of course powder as a supplement.

Baobab Tree Seeds

The Baobab Tree seeds have some fascinating qualities. They are said to taste like cream of tartar, which is a common wine-making byproduct used in baking.

The seeds of some species can be eaten fresh, some are pounded into meals but are usually not preferred over the pulp as a food source. The seeds of some species are used to make vegetable oil.

Baobab seed oil has also become a trendy ingredient in various cosmetic products, particularly moisturizers.

Baobab Tree Endangerment

In the early 2000s, Baobab Trees in southern Africa suddenly began to die at alarming rates. Baobab Trees which have been growing for thousands of years are dying suddenly.

The exact reason for this is undetermined. Possible candidates include pests or diseases.

A massive bare African Baobab tree with a hollow in its trunk in a desert field

(Image: DEZALB15)

But many experts believe that neither pests nor disease would be able to kill off so many trees so quickly and that they would leave other signs. It appears instead that climate change could be to blame, as there has been a marked temperature increase and overall relative drought in southern Africa over the past ten to fifteen years.

But it’s not just lack of water, the relative unpredictability of rainfall might be the biggest problem. Trees in specific environments expect water during specific parts of their seasonal cycle.

With highly irregular rains, trees can experience enormous water deficiencies. It’s not known what will happen to the species.

Many other trees of long-lived species around the world are experiencing similar hardship.3

Baobab Tree Needs

The Baobab Tree is not usually a cultivated genus, but if you were to describe the growing zones for Baobab Tree (where to grow) a Baobab Tree, it would be a climate like Madagascar.

You may be wondering for example how much sunlight does Baobab Tree need each day or what are the watering needs for Baobab Tree plants.

As for sunlight, the Baobab can take bright sunshine all day all year round. You might have already guessed from its native environment of southern Africa, but the tree can handle, and indeed expects, a ton of sunlight.

As for water, since the tree is drought-adapted, it has come up with some interesting strategies.11 In its native environment, there is only rain a couple of times a year.

A tall and bare Baobab Tree with its thick trunk in a field.

(Image: Jean-Philippe Déranlot (JeanFiFou)18)

The Baobab is an African tree with a very thick trunk. For example, Grandidier’s Baobab Tree trunks are massive and cylinder shaped and can reach 30 meters in height.

Inside Baobab Tree trunks is where much of the water is stored. The tree has adapted so that its trunk retains standing water and then absorbs it for storage in the living tissue of the fibrous wood.

The trunk in fact expands significantly during this process.

And indigenous people even noticed that certain trees which had been hollowed out after a lightning strike or by hand, would retain standing water in their cores after large rains, so they began using the trees basically as massive water bottles. The water doesn’t evaporate quickly since it is protected by the tree, and it does not rot the tree, since the trunk is designed to absorb and hold water.

Carving out these cavities does pose a risk to the tree and will ultimately cause death.4


Baobab Trees contribute a great amount to their ecosystems. They capture water and help keep soil moist, contributing to companion plants for growing Baobab Tree.

They also help recycle nutrients and slow erosion. In addition to helping plants, they are a source of shelter water and food for hundreds of species of animals including birds, lizards, primates, etc.

Elephants are even known to consume their bark for its water content when needed. Bats feed on the nectar and pollinate the trees.

How Much Carbon Does Baobab Tree Sequester?

Baobab Trees come in various weights, which is the main factor when estimating carbon sequestration.12 The genus is at a particular advantage due to its massive trunks.

Trees store most of their carbon in their stems, so Baobab Trees store more carbon than most other trees, proportionally. Another advantage of Baobab Trees is their extreme ages.

These trees can live to be millennia, which means that they are absorbing carbon over a much longer period of time.

To estimate and know how much carbon does Baobab Tree sequester or any specific tree, consider using an online calculator, but because of the long life of the tree and its size, estimates range from 2-4 tonnes of carbon sequestration, based on the amount of biomass in the tree.17

Baobab Tree Disease Prevention

Baobab tree disease prevention is crucial for maintaining the health of this tree. Although there are some common pests of the Baobab Tree, such as mealybugs, mites, and gnats do exist, the disease remains the primary threat, so you will likely not have to worry about natural pest control for Baobab Tree.

How to stop Baobab Tree disease depends on the specific case.

Baobab trees displaying large trunks and bare limbs in a rocky desert surface.

(Image: hbieser14)

In cultivation, too much water or low temperatures, or wet soil are common problems. In the wild, not having rain during the right seasons is a large problem.

Human Threats to Baobab

Although the Baobab does face some natural threats, by far the biggest threat to its survival is humans. Not just due to the indirect effects of climate change.

For example, the Grandidier Baobab of Madagascar Grandidier’s Baobab is listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List.

The real threat is the destruction of forest habitat, which has severely reduced the number of young specimens. Most of the potential habitat is converted into agricultural land.

Various politicians have promised to increase the number and size of protected areas, which would be of enormous benefit. Probably the most famous of all habitats has been the famous Avenue of the Baobabs.1 3

Avenue of Baobabs

The Avenue or Alley of the Baobabs is an area in the Menabe region of Madagascar, that has a group of around 25 immense Gardidier Baobabs lining an unpaved road. The trees are about 30 meters in height with characteristic massive trunks.

Some are over 2500 years old. It is a breathtaking sight and attracts travelers and enthusiasts from around the world.

It has also been the target of strong conservation efforts and is Madagascar’s first national monument.

The trees are a legacy of the dense tropical forest that once populated the area with many types of flora and fauna. Unfortunately, as the forests were cleared for agriculture, notably for rice paddies, the trees were left, and now they tower over the surrounding landscape.5

Baobab Amoureux

Another Baobab Tree monument in Madagascar is the famous Baobab Amoureux. This monument lies only about 7 kilometers away from the Alley of the Baobabs, and instead of being comprised of Gardidier Baobabs are of the Adansonia za.

It is two trees that have entwined. Of course, the obvious romantic associations prompted the name Baobab amoureux, meaning lovers.

According to a local legend, the two trees actually came and entwined together over the course of centuries. It says the Baobabs grew together after the failed love of a young man and women from nearby villages.

The two were betrothed to different partners, but were deeply in love, and prayed for a life and child together. Their wish was granted by the surrogates of the trees, who spend their lives together as the lovers had wished.

Do trees have genders? No, but they can have gendered parts.5

Baobab Tree Growing Zone

In the Baobab Tree growing zone, this unique plant is hardy in USDA planting zones 10-12. It needs a high degree of drainage and can die from both moist soil and frost.

The best North American habitats are South Florida and California. Here it can be grown outside.

Baobab tree growth chart illustrating a progression from a 1-year-old tree standing at 2-4 feet to a mature baobab at 16 years and older, towering between 30-98 feet.

However, more commonly it is grown in a pot in order to ensure drainage so it can be brought indoors for the winter.

Constraining size is another benefit, as very few spots can support full-grown specimens which can be among the biggest tree in the world by mass.

Baobabs are popular as bonsai.

Growing a Baobab Tree Facts

Baobab Trees are rarely cultivated by individuals. When it is, it is almost always in a stunted form in a container.

So certain elements of usual planting like when to plant Baobab Tree for the best yield or how far apart to plant Baobab Tree or mulching around trees, are not really as relevant as they would be with other types of trees. In addition, how long does it take for a tree to grow in this case will depend on the climate and size of a container and any grafting, so it is difficult to give a reliable estimate.

However, there are good planting tips for Baobab Tree along with Baobab Tree facts.

Planting Baobab Tree

There are a couple of options for someone who wants to grow a tree. Growing a Baobab Tree from a seed should start soaking seeds at room temperature for about a day, then use an abrasive surface like sandpaper or some scraping tool to remove the other layer until you reach the inner white tissue.

Next, dry the seeds for around 24 hours. Then they are ready to plant.

Place them in a pot about one to two inches beneath the soil, and keep the temperature above 15 degrees C. Use a spray bottle to keep the soil moist throughout, but not wet.

The seeds do not germinate reliably in artificial conditions, maybe about 1 in 3. So make sure you plant enough.

Germination can also take months,13 so be patient. Once the seedlings have formed roots you can start growing a Baobab Tree from a seedling by removing them and planting them in small pots with diameters above ten inches.6

Growing a Baobab Tree from a cutting is also possible. The cutting should be obtained in the springtime and have at least a few leaves.

Let it dry for several days, then plant it in a mixture of sand and peat as soil.


Watering a tree should be deep and thorough with a pot or hose from the top. Critical is drainage.

Make sure the water can escape the soil and that the soil has a good chance to dry. Frequent watering is not needed.


A big challenge in growing a Baobab is overwintering the tree. In cold or moderate climates make sure it is indoors and warm, above 10 degrees Celsius.

Water the Baobab Tree extremely sparingly during winter.6

The Baobab tree is both majestic and beautiful, and it’s fruit and other properties make it one of the world’s most treasured trees.

Frequently Asked Questions About Baobab Tree

What Is the Baobab Tree Growth Rate?

What’s the Baobab Tree growth rate? Baobab Trees grow extremely slowly and over a long period of time. They can often take around 20 years to fruit, although grafting can accelerate the process.

Where Does the Madagascar Tree Grow?

The question “Where does the Baobab Tree grow?” can have a number of answers, since the Madagascar Tree has been transplanted into many non-native regions across the world. One of its historical habitats, and one of the areas with the best-growing conditions for Baobab Tree, is the island of Madagascar.


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15Photo by DEZALB. Pixabay. Retrieved from <>

16Photo by baechi. Pixabay. Retrieved from <>

17Mganga, N.D., Yusuph K. 2022. Aboveground carbon storage in Adansonia digitata L. (Baobab) in Mkanana agroforestry and Mangalisa forest reserve in Mpwapwa District, Tanzania. International Journal of Engineering, Science and Technology, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 21-29. doi: 10.4314/ijest.v14i4.3. Print.

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19Tree Baobab Tarangire National Park Photo by 7523944. (2021, December 23) / Pixabay Content License. Cropped and added text, shape, and background elements. Pixabay. Retrieved February 22, 2024, from <>