The baobab still has many mysteries about its biological singularities. It has been studied since 2 centuries by botanists, since Michel Adanson who gave in 1749 in Senegal its name to the genus Adansonia.
It is only fifteen years since the American taxonomist David Baum established the number of species of baobabs at 8, of which 6 exist only in Madagascar.
The Malagasy baobabs are very different from their African cousins because since the separation of Gondwana some 160 million years ago, the 6 species present in Madagascar have differentiated by adapting to the particular and isolated ecosystems in which they live. were.
The baobab, a mythical tree
According to a Malagasy legend, it is in a baobab that the first man, Imbelo, carved his companion
This mythical tree, with the emblematic silhouette of the Malagasy landscapes, provokes emotions and wonder of the foreigner. It is not uncommon during our travels to have seen some travelers approach these giants, put their cheek on the trunk and try to clasp with their arms. A vain attempt of course, because these giants have a circumference that can exceed 20 meters.The baobabs are even so impressive that they can be identified on Google Earth images. Some would be over 1000 years old and deeply worshiped by the native population in the care of a wizard or a sage.
The baobab likes dry climates. Some of them can survive 8 months without a drop of water. So going to meet the baobabs, suppose to choose a trip in a dry region of Madagascar. But again, you have the choice: Detours Madagascar offers several circuits to discover these quiet giants.
And you, what baobab do you choose?
To contemplate the largest baobab (30 to 40 meters), the magnificent Anansonia Grandidieri, you have to go, half way north and south, in the dry forests of the West of the island, in the region of Morondava the tapered outrigger canoes punctuate the horizon. The mythical Baobab Alley made up of more than 1000 of these giants is spectacular in the red powder of the end of the day.
To admire the Madagascariensis, with a cylindrical trunk adorned with blood-red flowers, the traveler must go to the North of the Island, in the region of the beautiful Majunga with oriental influences. This port, with its bellies, has taken for emblem a solitary baobab, enthroned at a crossroads of the city.
To appreciate the two threatened varieties, the Perrieri and the Suarezensis, it is in the North of Madagascar that you have to go, in the region of Diego, the cosmopolitan one. You will also see the Rubrostipa, the smallest of the baobabs that barely resembles a tree with its trunk shaped like a bottle with a narrow neck from its branches.
Click for Our selection of trips approaching the baobabs of Madagascar
Here is a tree that is a true biological curiosity. Despite its roots-like branches, the baobab has only a few leaves, which also fall in the dry season.
Does not the joke say that it was planted upside down?
But then, how does he produce his photosynthesis? The ploy is in the thin green chlorophyll film that covers the trunk and allows it to do all year round photosynthesis. It is a strange and baroque tree whose trunk grows or narrows according to the volume of water it stores in its spongy trunk. It is also an amazing resilient: deeply wounded, it will still grow under curious puffy shapes.
For pollination, again, diversity is in order. While some baobabs have white flowers rising to the sky to attract butterflies, bees or pollinating birds, others have orange or red flowers, facing the ground to attract small lemurs and bats.
Its fruit, renala or monkey bread, is velvety, brown, oblong. The seeds are nestled in a tart white pulp, protected by a hard shell. Very popular with the traveler, it can be consumed in juice or ice and can be refueled because it is 10 times richer in vitamin C than orange. The cosmetics industry is also interested in baobab to showcase it on beauty rays.
To adapt more quickly to changes in its environment, the baobab does not wait for natural selection to do its work over time. It quickly hybridises with another variety to borrow certain characteristics, thanks to a polinizer, butterfly or other insect. This is a phenomenon called introgression.
Vulnerability of baobab
Finally, it is the little use that the Malagasy people make with baobab which has helped to preserve it, even in the heavily deforested regions. The mythical alley of baobab trees was before a dry forest of which only the imposing silhouettes of baobabs remain today. However, in some areas of Madagascar, there are no more young baobabs for 300 or 400 years. Probably cause deforestation - 10,000 hectares would go up in smoke each year -, the disappearance of some animals propagating seeds or climate change. This vulnerability raises the question of the sustainable management of these ecosystems that should be put in place. This would allow the traveler to contemplate for a long time this mythical tree, a tree of wonders, an imposing presence in the lights of the evening lights and to feed the legends and stories of Madagascar for a long time.