The baobab tree species grow in arid, low-lying areas across the three continents. These deciduous trees become tall and bloated with larger species growing to 80 feet tall and 40 feet wide. The baobab tree is sometimes referred to as the ‘upside-down tree’ because, without the leaves and fruits, its crown looks like a root system. While the trees' massive water-storing trunk doesn’t allow for the trees’ age to be correctly discerned via counting the number of rings on the trunk, carbon dating has often been used. It has identified that some of the species are over 5,000 years old. In this article, we shall focus on the baobab tree’s flowers and how they are pollinated depending on where they grow.
All baobab species possess flowers that open at night and then fall within 24 hours. One such tree commonly referred to as the African baobab has massive white flowers. They grow to 5 inches in diameter with thick white petals surrounding tall purple stamens. The other six baobab tree species found in Madagascar have flowers that range in colour from orange, to white and yellow, some are even red. The flowers native to Madagascar baobab trees are generally smaller than those of the African baobab. Two of the Madagascar tree species have beautiful pendulous flowers and the four remaining have blooms that possess tall cylindrical petals of varying hues. All the baobab species sprout flowers that have tons of nectar and beautiful scents.
Some of the various species of fruits bats have been accredited as the primary pollinators of the African baobab. The large blooms are suitable for bat pollination as they are massive enough to support a large bat, while it sucks the nectar.
The African baobab flowers grow long stalks at the end of their branches, where fruit bats can access them easily. Since few flowers are open at the same time, the fruit bats move from one tree to another, in turn, promoting cross-pollination.
The Madagascar baobab species are primarily pollinated by mouse lemurs and hawk moths. The mouse lemurs are arguably the smallest primates in the animal kingdom. They often emerge after long hibernation periods to feed on the nectar from the Madagascar tree flowers.
The hawk moths feast on the Madagascar baobab nectar too and spread the pollen to other trees. Another interesting fact is that the mouse lemurs also feed on hawk moths as well as the baobab nectar.
Australian baobab tree (Adansonia gregorii) is the only species that is native to Australia. Genetically it is very similar to the African baobab; however, its flowers are long and cylindrical instead of pendulous and round.
While bats feed on the Australian flower’s nectar, it’s the hawk moths that are the flower’s primary pollinator. The long cylindrical shapes of the flowers are more suited for moths and other small insects rather than bats.