Thursday, April 5, 2012

Crazy Plants: Baobab

One of several species of baobab, Adansonia grandidieri. 
The Australian A. gibbosa
The genus Adansonia is a fascinating group that is commonly known by the common name name baobab. These trees have a very unique appearance. There are eight species total, with the majority being found exclusively on Madagascar. One of the species is found on the African continent and parts of the Arabian Peninsula and the last is found in parts of Australia. Of the six species currently listed on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, three are endangered (including A. grandidieri) and the other three are near threatened. The two species of baobab that are missing from the Red List happen to be the ones that are found away from Madagascar.

The fruit of the African A. digitata
A. grandidieri is the largest of the species, and, thanks in part to its great height of up to twenty-five meters, possibly the oddest in appearance. The trunk itself can be three meters in diameter. The species prefers dry area, and a major risk is encroaching farmland. In fact, now one of the most common places to find the tree is on land that is used for agriculture. Its flowers supposedly smell rather like watermelon that is sour. A major pollinator of the plant is one of the many species of lemur that are found on Madagascar. It's believed that the species of animal that acted as a disperser of this plant's seeds has gone extinct as no disperser has been witnessed beyond possible water dispersal. This is possibly another risk to the species' survival. What's most likely not much of a threat is the fact that these trees are used as a source of food and materials. Pulp and seeds are eaten and used for oil, with collectors hammering pegs into the trees to make them easier to climb. Scars at the base of the trunk is evidence of bark being collected to make rope. The wood of the tree is used for thatch. All of the collection methods used do not severely damage or kill the trees, and thus probably do not have much affect on survival.

The flower of another Madagascar species: A. rubrostipa
Sources are the IUCN Red List, ARKive, and University of Queensland. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licenses: one, two, three, four.

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