||Eight species make up this remarkable genus of trees but the most famous is the African baobab (Adansonia digitata) which is renowned for the huge girth of its trunk, shaped like a giant flask. One of the other species is found only in northwestern Australia, while the remaining 6 are confined to the island of Madagascar. Botanists are still debating theories as to how this unusual geographical distribution came about. Adansonia belongs to the largely tropical bombax family; a common feature of the family is the football-shaped fruit containing seeds packed in a dense mass of fine hairs resembling cotton-wool. The swollen trunks of Adansonia trees are not hollow but contain very soft spongy wood that is saturated with water. The leaves are digitately divided into a number of leaflets and are usually deciduous in the tropical dry season. Flowers are large, upright or pendulous, with fleshy white petals and a dense brush of long white stamens; they are pollinated by bats, lemurs, marsupials, birds or moths, depending on species and location. Human uses of the baobabs are almost too numerous to mention. Leaves are used as a green vegetable or for stockfeed; bark fiber for cloth and rope; drinking water can be squeezed from the wood; and the fruit pulp is edible though slightly sour, and is used to make refreshing drinks or for medicinal purposes.
||CULTIVATION: They thrive only in the tropics or warmer subtropics; if winters are too cool and damp, young plants soon succumb to rot. Although the African and Australian species grow in regions with quite low rainfall and a very long dry season, they adapt to wetter tropical conditions, making moderately fast growth after an initially slow seedling phase. They are best suited to deep alluvial soils. Propagation is normally from seed, which in the wild may have passed through the digestive tract of animals, possibly speeding up germination. Scrubbing off all fruit pulp is likewise helpful. Cuttings of half-hardened wood can also be struck.