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Baobabs

Baobabs and Baobab Meander:
Of the 8 species of Adansonia, this is the only species that occurs in Africa. The Baobab is one of the most well known African tree species, partly because of its extraordinary size and appearance but also because of its many uses. Regarded as the largest succulent plant in the world, the baobab tree is steeped in a wealth of mystique, legend and superstition wherever it occurs in Africa. It is a tree that can provide food, water, shelter and traditional medicine.

Baobabs can grow to a moderate height of about 10-22 m but their most impressive feature is the huge, broad trunk which can reach over 15 m in diameter. In winter when the tree has lost its leaves, it has the appearance of having been turned upside down, hence the name, Upside-down Tree. The stem is covered with a bark layer, which may be 50-100 mm thick. The bark is greyish brown and normally smooth but can often be variously folded and seamed from years of growth. The leaves are hand-sized and divided into 5-7 finger-like leaflets. Being deciduous, the leaves are dropped during the winter months and appear again in late spring or early summer.

The large, pendulous flowers (up to 200 mm in diameter) are white and sweetly scented. They emerge in the late afternoon from large round buds on long drooping stalks from October to December. The flowers fall within 24 hours, turning brown and smelling quite unpleasant. Pollination by fruit bats takes place at night.

The fruit is a large, egg-shaped capsule (often >120 mm), covered with a yellowish brown hairs. The fruit consists of a hard, woody outer shell with a dry, powdery substance inside that covers the hard, black, kidney-shaped seeds. The off-white, powdery substance is apparently rich in ascorbic acid. It is this white powdery substance which is soaked in water to provide a refreshing drink somewhat reminiscent of lemonade. This drink is also used to treat fevers and other complaints.

Largest baobabs in South Africa
A number of significantly large, historical baobab trees can be seen in the Limpopo Province:
(from Esterhuyse et al. 2001)

The Sagole Baobab is recorded as being the biggest tree in South Africa with a stem diameter of 10.47 m, a height of 22 m and a crown spread of 38.2 m. It grows east of Tshipise.

The Glencoe Baobab near Hoedspruit is probably the second largest and bears several trunks. It has a stem diameter of 15.9 m, a height of 17 m and a crown spread of 37.05 m. This tree has dates carved on the stem from 1893 and 1896.

The Platland Baobab that grows near Duiwelskloof, today houses a pub. It has a stem diameter of 10.64 m, a height of 19 m, and a crown spread of 30.2 m.

The Buffesldrift Baobab which is in the Mokopane District has a distinct trunk with a diameter of 7.71 m, a height of 22 m and a crown spread of 30.2 m.

Taking all measurements into account, the Sagole tree is regarded as being the largest of the 4 listed above and overall is regarded as the largest tree in South Africa. The Tree diameter is influenced by rainfall, the trunk becoming narrower in dry years. For instance, a tree measured in 1946 was 60 cm less in diameter than it was in 1931.

Baobab cultivation and usage today
By Sarah Venter, 2009

The baobab tree offers a wide range of valuable products and, in doing so, plays and has played an important part in the livelihoods of rural Africans from time immemorial. For instance, it is known its fruit was traded in the markets of Cairo from at least the sixteenth century. Baobab products continue to be traded across Africa and now are even found in European, Asian and American markets.

Today, the most widely used part of the tree is the fruit, from which the seeds and fruit pulp are taken. Seeds are cold-pressed to extract oil excellent for the topical treatments of skin ailments. It is rich in Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, absorbs easily into the skin, and so is used in cosmetic products. The fruit pulp can be eaten fresh or can be added to other foods and be used for cool drinks, smoothies, cereal bars and jams. This pulp has a high concentration of vitamin C, calcium and magnesium. Pregnant women and elderly people are known to benefit from supplementing their diets with baobab fruit pulp.

Fresh baobab leaves make tasty spinach and are also frequently dried and powdered for use in sauces. They are a good source of vitamin A, protein, iron and other minerals. During times of drought, leaves and seeds are used as animal fodder. Bark is stripped off young trees for rope-making and is woven into mats and baskets.

The baobab is often called 'the healing tree' because sap, pulp, leaves and bark are used for medicine. The sap has been used to treat toothache'; leaves are employed in the treatment of asthma, colic, inflammations, insect bites, fatigue and many other ailments. The bark is widely used as a substitute for quinine to treat malarial fevers. Moreover, there is a strong belief that baobab trees house spirits which, if called upon, will help heal sickness, suffering and particularly infertility. For this reason, many stands of baobab trees have become sacred sites and places of worship.

The Company ?EcoProducts? specializes in the production of Organic Baobab seed oil and Organic Baobab fruit pulp. Both products have been certified according to EU and NOP organic standards. EcoProducts supplies the Cosmetics Industry and Health shops & Pharmacies.

Community Benefit
EcoProducts works with communities who live in the poorest and most underdeveloped part of South Africa. Households are often headed by women, who have to support large extended families. There are few jobs in this area and local people rely on subsistence agriculture and social grants for their survival. Thus, working directly with these communities, brings much needed economic benefits. EcoProducts has developed relationships with several villages. Each village is visited once a month in order to give harvesters enough time to collect fruit. Rural women, even if they are unemployed, have a full day: tilling fields, collecting firewood and water, cooking food, looking after children and meeting social and

Tribal responsibilities. In some villages, a micro economy has established around these collection days: fruit vendors arrive, nonperishable foodstuffs are sold between villages and goods that are difficult to get in the area are bartered. The sale of baobab fruit and seeds has already become an important source of income in these areas. EcoProducts is working with traditional leaders to protect trees and encourage sustainable harvesting. Historically Baobab fruits were used as a food source and for this reason the trees where pro- tected by cultural by-laws. In present times the fruits are no longer eaten and the tree is losing its importance. Now, despite provincial and national legislation protecting Baobab trees, trees are being cut down to make way for fields, roads and houses. Through the sale of Baobab products we aim to reverse this trend. EcoProducts has started a tree planting program in villages in order to boost the population of baobab trees for future production. This is a long term project as trees only start bearing fruit after about 20 years. Baobab trees can live for over 500 years and they continue to bear fruit for most of their lifetime.

Baobab Oil
Baobab seed oil is an excellent quality oil, suitable for use in up-market skin-care products. It is a superb moisturizer. The oil absorbs quickly into the skin and does not leave an oily residue. It is known for its ? 3, ? 6 and ? 9 fatty acids and blends easily with other essential and fixed oils. The use of the oil in topical treatments for relief of certain skin disorders, such as eczema, psoriasis and sunspots, has been shown to be effective.

Baobab Fruit Pulp
Baobab fruit pulp is used as a natural supplement and it has antioxidant and prebiotic properties. It contains a variety of natural vitamins, minerals and organic acids including Vitamin C, B1, B2, B3, B6, Calcium and Iron.

Contact person: Sarah Venter, info@ecoproducts.co.za, www.ecoproducts.co.za