The Mysterious Life of Baobab Flowers

Nothing excites me more than being involved in baobab research and I’d rather be in the bush studying baobab trees than in the office in front of a computer any day!  So I was very happy to host Nisa Karimi, a graduate student from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  She is being funded through a USAid fellowship to study baobab flower pollination.

How are baobab flowers pollinated?

Nisa’s work follows research that I  initiated in 2014 to establish what the main pollinators of baobab flowers are in the South African population of baobab trees.  She spent the whole month of November last year here, during which she spent most nights and days sitting in baobab trees watching for bats, hawk moths, bees and anything else that might visit the flowers.  Her research will be a valuable contribution to our understanding of fruit production which in turn has benefits to supporting rural livelihoods. As soon as her research becomes available, I’ll be sure to share it with you.

Here she is – in her delightful working environment!

Tree 13 with Nisa



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  1. Hello!

    I live in Mombasa and we have baobab trees all around us. I have doing some research on the baobab for a project this term. can you please tell me, what are the conditions required for the baobab to germinate, how long does it take from a seedling to a mature tree. What are the differences between the Madagascar and African baobab other than shape? Is there and use for outside of the pod?

    Do you also have any information on the distribution of trees in East Africa?

    Looking forward to hearing back from you.



    • Hi Neil,

      Thank you for posting your questions.

      What are the conditions required for the baobab to germinate?
      Baobab seeds germinate best in hot and humid conditions. However they also dont like too much atmospheric humidity. So best to plant the seeds in very sandy soil, that can drain easily and keep the well watered. Best time of the year to plant them would be in the middle of your summer season.

      How long does it take from a seedling to a mature tree?
      The time it takes to grow to maturity depends on how much water it is getting. This can vary from 30 to 200 years!

      What are the differences between the Madagascar and African baobab other than shape?
      There are 7 different baobab species growing in Madagascar. 6 of them are unique to Madagascar and grow no where else in the world. The African baobab (Adansonia digitata) also grows in Madagascar, but was probably introduced more recently. There are many differences between the species especially in the way their flowers look.

      Is there and use for outside of the pod?
      The shell is very high in potassium and if burned can be used as pot ash and as a cooking soda. We use the shell as a mulch in the agricultural orchards as it adds useful minerals and humous to the soil.

      All the best for your project.

      Kind regards,

      Dr Sarah Venter

  2. Hi Sarah!

    I have an African Baobab (adansonia digitata) in my garden, there are no natural pollinators around. (Thailand)

    I tried without success to hand pollinate some of the low hanging flowers; do you know/can you teach me how to manually pollinate them?

    Such a majestic tree; at this time of the year, it is full of flowers.

    Thanks, best regards.

    • Hi Andrei

      Baobabs (Adansonia digitata) are so-called self-incompatible, this means that a flower cannot be pollinated from another flower from the same tree. It must be pollinated from a flower from a different tree (cross pollinated). So I’m afraid its not going to be possible to pollinate the flowers by hand unless you are able to get some pollen from another baobab tree. Currently, we don’t know anything about the life-span of pollen or how to preserve it for future pollination, so you may have to be content to enjoy the flowers as they are!

      kind regards

  3. Thank you kindly, now I understand.

    Luckily, I do have a couple of more trees; they did not flower yet, sooner or later they will.
    They are all the same age but growing in different spots with less water.


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