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Known as ‘the mother of the forest’, the giant baobab is an iconic tree that is threatened with extinction.
Of the eight species of baobab in the world, six are found only in Madagascar, including the giant baobab in the south-western regions of the island.
The giant baobab is used as a source of cooking oil and construction materials by Malagasy people.
Unfortunately, as agricultural land continues to expand across Madagascar, the giant baobab is in danger of disappearing forever.
Before it collapsed in 2018, a giant baobab known as Tsitakakoike was thought to be the largest, at 27m in diameter, and nearly 1,400 years old.
The giant baobab has thick trunks with smooth, grey-red bark that can reach up to three meters across and 30m tall. The branches grow out horizontally from the top of the tree into a wide canopy. Leaves on the branches are green, loosely star-shaped with around 10 points and covered in small hairs.
The flowers are shorter than most other baobab species, similar to the Suarez baobab, and appear between May and July. They are white, with five petals forming a cup shape. At the centre, hundreds of thin white filaments are clustered together, and fused at the base by a structure called the staminal tube. The flowers produce a large quantity of nectar to attract pollinators, along with an unpleasant smell.
The fruits are large, oblong and hairy, beginning as green then ripening to brown between July and October. They contain large, white and brown kidney-shaped seeds.
Food and drink
The fruits of the giant baobab are eaten by the native Malagasy people.
Cooking oil is produced using giant baobab seeds.
Materials and fuels
The bark and wood of the tree is used to produce fibres for crafting and thatching.
Did you know?
Giant baobab flowers are pollinated by moths, bats and lemurs.
The specific scientific name of the giant baobab, grandidieri, was given to the species by Henri Ernest Baillon in honour of French naturalist Alfred Grandidier.
Where in the world?
Dry forests at low elevations, usually close to waterholes and rivers.
The giant baobab is at risk of extinction, much like many of the other species of baobab found in Madagascar.
To best protect species from disappearing forever, we need to understand where a species sits in the complex web that is its ecosystem.
Scientists at Kew are working to learn more about the life cycle of the Suarez baobab (Adansonia suarezensis), a close relation to the giant baobab, to help protect it in the future.
The BaoBat project is investigating which species pollinate Suarez baobabs, and what other plants they visit. Researchers will also use camera traps to find out more about which animals distribute the fruits and seeds of the tree.
Currently, we don't know which animals are responsible for spreading seeds of the Suarez baobab, so it's difficult to know what the impact of human activity might be on the survival of the tree.
The project will also actively protect Suarez baobab populations by planting new seedlings into the most affected areas. Working with local communities, the goal is to help restore these environments by increasing the genetic diversity of the baobabs, along with planting other plant species that support the baobabs.
While doing this, the researchers will also be able to learn more about how factors like soil type and microhabitats affect seedling survival. This knowledge will help inform future efforts to reintroduces baobabs.