The rest of the world (Australia, Arabia and mainland Africa) only have 1-2 species, which truly makes Madagascar the country of Baobabs. Although, there they prefer to use a different name for the trees: Monkey Bread. While people may be familiar with the “standard’ African Baobab Adansonia digitata found throughout Africa it’s worth discovering the unique variety of Baobabs found in Madagascar.
The most famous Baobab species found in Madagascar is the Giant Baobab Adansonia grandidieri, these tall reddish-brown cylindrical trees with a cluster of branches right at the top are what line the picturesque Avenue of Baobabs, a top tourist attraction in Madagascar.
This species is also known as Grandidier’s Baobab and was named after a French botanist, Alfred Grandidier. Flowering with white petals and dark brown floral buds from May to August and bearing ripe fruit in November and December the trees can grow to 30 metres. Sadly, it is listed as endangered on the IUCN list.
While the Giant Baobab is the most famous Malagasy species there is one that is actually named after the country and that is, you guessed it, the Madagascar Baobab Adansonia madagascariensis. With dark red flowers that bloom at night, a bottle-shaped trunk, and growing up to heights of 5-25 metres, it too is a favourite for photographers.
The rarest Baobab species in Madagascar is Perrier’s Baobab, there are only a few left in the northernmost part of the island. This is a shame as the tree is full of nutrients such as protein, calcium, magnesium, riboflavin, and phytosterols. The fruit of the tree is also good for making juice and ice cream.
Another rare Baobab species that is found in the north of the island is the Suarez Baobab Adansonia suarezensis, this is named either after the city Diego Suarez or the Portuguese explorer who is also the city’s namesake. Bats like to make their home in these trees and they are also responsible for pollinating the white flowers that bloom mostly at night. The Malagasy see value in the trees and use them for ceremonies, medicine, food, fibre, and juices.
The smallest Baobab species is the Fony Adansonia rubrostipa which typically only grows 4-5 metres. Fony Baobabs look short and fat and some even say like a potato. They also hold a lot of water in their trunks, sometimes causing them to appear older than they are. Malagasy use the inner bark to make strong ropes and cords. Fony Baobabs can be found in the south of Madagascar in the Spiny Forest.
Also in the south is the Za Baobab Adansonia za, Za is the Malagasy word for tree and this is the most common Baobab found in Madagascar, in fact, it is also found in other regions of the island. The tree has a sweet musty smell and black fruit with oily seeds. It also flowers yellow and red like the Fony Baobab. Za Baobabs grow up to 10 – 30 metres and are similar in appearance to the African Baobab.
This unique diversity of endemic Baobabs (more than anywhere else in the world!) is just one of the reasons Madagascar is a must-see for nature lovers.
Why not plan a visit to the island nation and see if you can check all 6 species off your list?