Fun with Baobabs

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

Just for kicks, I got a packet of baobab seeds from Hirt's last week. I figured they either wouldn't germinate, or would damp off immediately, but what the heck.

I planted six seeds in 3-inch peat pots. One of them germinated in two days, and within four days had roots poking through the bottom of the pot. It's raised some kind of gargantuan leaf about 3x2 inches on a stalk 2 inches tall. I think I have a keeper!

Yesterday morning I potted it up into a 10-inch standard pot (just buried the peat pot in soil mixed with bark, gravel, and perlite). I tossed in a couple of tiny seedlings around the edges of the pot it for display purposes so the single big leaf wouldn't look so lonely. My plan is to keep it slightly moist at all times, never dry, never wet, and see what happens.

Here in Zone 8a, the seedling would probably survive the summer outdoors, but only if I took extraordinary care of it. In the fall, I'd have to dig it up, dry it off, and toss it under the bed until spring. I don't mind carrying a pot in and out, but I draw the line at digging and replanting. That seems like too much work. So I'm going for a potted baobab.

The other five seeds haven't germinated yet (much more in line with expectations), and I'm keeping them bottom-warmed and damp.

Plano, TX

since you live so close to me i am curious what it is you are growing-baobab? and why it is such a challenge for our area--i know-i know--i should look it up but am being lazy

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

There are a number of different baobab species (Latin name Adansonia), but none of them are hardy in zone 8 (or 9 for that matter) so they aren't going to survive your winters.

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

A baobab will survive in Zone 8 as long as you're willing to dig it up at first leaf-fall and store it, bone-dry, until it leafs out again. The biggest killers are cold and wet -- during dormancy, the tree must be warm and dry, or it dies almost immediately. People really do wrap them in brown packing paper and shove them under the bed for the winter. They don't need ANYTHING during dormancy.

Think of the veldts in Africa where they grow naturally. The land alternates from desert to flood. In the spring, it's wet, wet, wet, and the trees do all their growing and storing of water against the long, parched winter to come when the flood waters retreat.

As I said before, though, digging up and storing the tree is way too much work for me. When kept inside in a pot, all one needs to do during dormancy is remember to NOT water it at all. Warm and wet during domancy equals instant rot.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I was answering Linda's question about why it's so challenging to grow it in your climate, and it's because it's not hardy and won't survive outdoors. When I said it won't survive your winters, I meant if you left it planted in the garden outdoors--it would probably survive winters in pretty much any zone if you dig it up and bring it in as you described.

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

More fun with baobabs!

Two more of the seeds have germinated. Roots are already sticking out through the bottoms of the peat pots, even though the stems/leaves aren't above surface yet (you can just barely see a loop of green, like a bent-over straw, in the top of the dirt).

The first one is another inch high, and it opens and closes its leaves (like a prayer plant) at dawn/dusk. Still seems to be strong and healthy. An embryonic pair of new leaves is just barely visible. It must be growing a tremendously thick tap root, because it's sucking up all the water I give it, then asking for more.

I'll pot up the two new ones in a day or two, when the leaves are above ground. Normally, I'd want to wait until they were better established, but I want to give those huge roots something to dig into. Based on how the other one's going, I think I'll use larger pots for the next two.

Fun week! And there are still some peat pots left!

Central, NJ(Zone 6b)

Can you post a picture? I am curios, I wanted to order baobab seeds too from RarExoticSeeds, but ended up ordering adenium seeds instead. May be next time ;-)

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

Here's baby baobab #1. That's a 8-inch pot (I thought I'd used 10, but apparently not). The baby is eight days old (from time of planting the seed).


This message was edited Feb 17, 2008 7:41 PM

Thumbnail by DallasDad
Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

And here are babies #2 and #3, still unpotted.

Thumbnail by DallasDad
Central, NJ(Zone 6b)

Looks big for 8-day old! I thought baobab is a slow grower because they live so long. I guess seeds are pretty large too. Hope all your baobab babies will grow.

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

The seeds aren't all that big. Pumpkin seeds are much larger. I've seen contradictory information on the web about growth rate -- it may be that different varieties of baobab grow at different speeds. One thing all the descriptions have in common, though, is that while the tree itself may take 500 years to mature, the seedlings usually grow rapidly. The immature tree doesn't look much like the mature tree. Apparently it doesn't grow like it, either!

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

Okay, these things are nuts. Last night, around 7:30 p.m., I took the picture a couple of posts above. It shows seedlings #2 and #3, just barely poking up out of the starter cell. Since the roots on #3 (right) were already quite long, I went ahead and potted it last night. This morning (photo taken at 11:00), it looks like this! It's hard to get a good photo that shows the leaves and stem together, but the stem is fully extended, and part of the leaves (another 1/4-inch, I'd guess) are still buried. When the tips of the leaves pull free from the soil, the stem will straighten out and hold the leaves up like a fan.

Seedling #2 (on the left in the photo a couple of post up) didn't get potted until this morning. Its seed cover is still hard, but it's trying to crack it open.

Seedling #1 (the original one to germinate) is doing well in its pot by the window. It no longer opens and closes its leaves at dawn/dusk, but the leaves are larger than ever.

Seedling #4 is just about to poke itself up from its starter pot. I wouldn't have known it was there, except that I saw the tail end of the root sticking out from underneath. I gently poked at the top layer of peat, and sure enough, there's a fourth one coming up. If all six germinate and survive, I'm going to need to build an addition onto the house just to raise these things. (Just kidding -- they'll slow down and start acting like trees before long.)





This message was edited Feb 18, 2008 12:05 PM

This message was edited Feb 19, 2008 7:26 AM

Thumbnail by DallasDad
Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

Baby #2 is doing fine, and baby #4 will be ready for potting today or tomorrow, but baby #3 is still having trouble breaking through its seed pod. The pod is well above the surface, and the stem has in fact straightened, but the leaves are still trapped inside.

I kept the seed pod moist yesterday (dribbled a drop or two of water on it every couple of hours), and very gently tried to loosen it by hand, but it's firmly stuck and very hard. I managed to wiggle one small piece loose, and hoped it would be enough. Alas, this morning the pod is still firmly attached, and the stem is starting to show signs of suffering.

Baby #3 may not make it. I don't dare try handling it any more. I'll continue moistening it and hope for the best.

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

With the help of a pair of plyers, baby #3 got his seed pod off. The portion of the leaves that was trapped was discolored and unhealthy, but the rest of the leaves looked fine. He's opening up, and will likely survive.

In the meantime, baby #5 poked his head out of his peat pot. Yesterday afternoon, he was completely under the soil. This morning, he was two inches tall with two-inch leaves unfurled. I'll transplant him into a proper soil pot later today.

Pensacola, FL(Zone 8b)

wow i love to see it as it grows i love baobab trees!!!

James

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

And baby #6 is almost ready to be potted. That's 6 out of 6 seeds. They're flourishing. The first five all have secondary leaves already (some embryonic, but there).

It will be interesting to watch these guys grow. No way to guess how well they'll do indoors, but if they continue on their present course, they'll be huge before long. I'll post pictures every now and then, to encourage other baobab growers.

Now if only my oriental poppies (sown at the same time as the baobabs) would germinate!

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

Update:

Four of the six baobabs seem to be thriving. They've grown their first or second set of true leaves, and are starting to act more like one would expect baby trees to behave: they're slowing down, developing good roots, and thickening at the stem.

The other two baobabs are in trouble. One never opened its first set of true leaves. It sprouted them, and held them up in the air like a spear, but the leaves never unfurled. The other one opened its first set of true leaves, but they were small and more yellowish than the four healthy plants. Both of the sick plants are using up the cotyledon just to stay alive; the cotlyedons are drooping and weary-looking. I fear these two plants don't have much longer to live.

Five of the six plants have been kept in a row, with exactly the same light, humidity, air movement, soil composition, and so forth. The two unhappy plants are in this group of five. The sixth plant (the first one to sprout) is off in another room, on a windowsill, and is about the same level of development as the healthy ones in a row.

I suspect the two sick plants were either transplanted too soon, or were just not as healthy as seeds. This might also be how damping off demonstrates itself in a baobab. Who knows? Perhaps I damaged the roots while transplanting. I've moved them to be directly under a light, and have added a tiny bit of H2O2 to their regular water.

If you're trying this along with me, here's something to remember: Do not use a soap solution of ANY strength on the leaves. While treating all the rest of my plants in that area, I experimented by swabbing one of the cotyledons with an extremely weak solution of insect soap. Within a day, the cotyledon developed a yellow streak, and drooped almost to the dirt. Fortunately, the plant recovered (it's one of the healthy ones), and I'm glad I didn't do the rest of the baobabs without testing first.

SW, WI(Zone 4b)

Just happened to catch this post today (better late than never!) and remembered that I had received a few Baobob seeds in a trade about 5 years ago, but never planted them when life had more 'pressing' issues in mind for me at that time.

Does anyone know if there's a chance they'll still be viable?
I guess I can google them to find out, but just thought I'd ask here.

Thanks for the post and updates, Dallasdad...it's fun and interesting to see what others are up to. It often spurns a new interest for me, or renews an old one.

You've also reminded me that I need to get some seeds going for my outdoor annuals!

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

Update:

One of the sick baobabs died completely. The other one lost its (very large) cotyledons, but the true leaves appear to be happy. It's not growing as fast as the others, but may survive.

Here's a photo of the first baby to sprout. This baby is about 6 weeks old. One of the others has more true leaves already, but isn't as pretty as this one.

Thumbnail by DallasDad
Duncan, OK(Zone 7a)

Dallasdad, it looks great! I want one..lol Now I have to add it to my wish list....lol what is the latin name of your baobab's?

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

Baobab Adansonia digitata, also known as the Monkey Bread tree. It's the only one I've tried. I bought eight seeds from Hirt's (via Amazon.com), and planted six right away (holding two back in case I screwed something up). I eventually planted all eight. Two never came up, and one died, so I have five, four of which are very healthy, and one of which is iffy.

Duncan, OK(Zone 7a)

Thanks for the name. I have a Ernst's Boabab that was given to me as a gift in 2007. I have had it for a few months now small but growing. It's from a cutting.
Here is a picture of mine taken today.

This message was edited Mar 29, 2008 5:47 PM

Thumbnail by amalie63
Duncan, OK(Zone 7a)

LOL I went to add Baobab Adansonia digitata to my want list here on Dave's Garden and I had already done so the other day...lol
Would you be willing to do a trade or I can pay for shipping on one of your Baobab Adansonia digitata if they all make it?

Duncan, OK(Zone 7a)

Oh now I feel stupid. I looked up Plectranthus ernstii on Dave's Garden and it's not a Boabab, wonder why the person who sent it to me wrote that down on the plant label? the person wrote down on one side, Ernst's Boabab Tree and then on the other side Plectranthus ernstii . I guess I don't have any boaba's like I thought I did. Oh well... Sorry for the mistake.

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

I want to run the experiment a bit longer before considering trades. If they all grow, and grow large, then I'll definitely have some to get rid of.

Duncan, OK(Zone 7a)

Ok ... keep me in mind.... thanks.

Duncan, OK(Zone 7a)

Hello DallasDad, just wondering how your experiment with your baobab seedlings is coming along? Update! Update!....lol

Blessings,
Amalie

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

Not much to report. The growth rate has slowed waaaaaaaay down, as expected. They have some tiny new leaves, but are spending most of their energy developing roots. They're acting more like trees than like annual flowers now. At the current rate of growth, it'll be a year before I need to repot.

I'm waiting for it to get hotter outside. I plan to take several of them out and see how they do with full sun. At the end of April, I'll move a couple of pots to the covered patio to let them start hardening off. In mid-May, if they're still doing okay, I'll start letting them have sun. I plan to leave a couple of them indoors in their current positions to act as controls.

Duncan, OK(Zone 7a)

Thanks for the update. I bet they will do a lot of growing when placed in full sun. Your plan sounds good to me....
Please think of me when you are ready to give a few of them a new home. Keep us updated on your new babies...

Blessings,
Amalie

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

Sure thing.

Winnipeg, MB(Zone 4a)

Great chronicle of your baobabs! Keep us posted.

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

Thanks.

Just today, I've started introducing two of the five to the outdoors. I gave them all morning in full shade and very mild wind, and am now giving them a little sun. I'll keep it short, but lengthen the time a little bit every day. I'm going to compare the ones kept inside with the ones outside, to see how the environment affects their growth.

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

Well, the two pots I moved outside did fine until I started giving them a little sun. The leaves etiolated after two days of morning sun, two hours per day. I've moved them back into the shade, but the damage may be done. I have no idea how to get the leaves green again.

I'm going to leave them outside, where it's warmer and more humid than inside, but keep them under the patio roof. They will have plenty of sunlight, but no direct rays will touch the leaves. We'll see what happens.

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

Ah, darn. One of the ones outdoors has dropped its leaves. It's now just a stick-in-a-pot. Doesn't look good.

Duncan, OK(Zone 7a)

Oh no! Thats a bummer, I am so sorry, I hope the others do well for you. Thank you for the updates, keep us posted.

Amalie

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

Follow-up:

Down to two of the baobabs happy. The others have either died or are "stuck" in a non-growth stage of some kind. Alas, previous ones that didn't show growth eventually died. On the bright side, the stick-in-a-pot plant popped up a few new leaves, so while it isn't happy, it isn't dead yet, either.

Despite this plant wanting a lot of water during active growth, it really really hates wet feet. If you are going to raise baobabs, make sure they have excellent drainage. Water regularly, but keep the medium damp instead of wet. A few of my dead ones showed clear sign of root rot.

They also don't appear to like much weather. Every plant I've tried to harden off has had problems. The two that are happy are ones I've never taken out. They are on north windowsills for now, with no plant light.

Growth is VERY slow, even on the happy plants. Little shoots seem to take ages to elongate and bring forth leaves. The leaves, when they do appear, also take ages to unfurl, and even more time to achieve full size.

Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom

I know this is an old post but your plants looked so cute and I had to look up on google what the trees were but they are great. We don't have them in the UK but I think I might have to buy some now to try them hehe

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

Two of mine are still flourishing. I was expecting them to go dormant, but they've just started a new growth sport.

Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom

How are your plants doing? Are they still ok? Ever since I first saw your post I've been itching to get some. I've seen a few fairly good deals on e-bay and I am 99.9% interested. I was just wondering how yours were doing first?

I was going to try and make bonsai out of them :).

Murphy, TX(Zone 8a)

Well, the two that had put on dozen of leaves flourished for several months, but just recently the leaves turned yellow and dropped off. (The plants have been inside since early December; no environmental changes going on.)

The platns are either dormant or dead. Kind of hard to tell right now, but I've stopped watering just in case. 'Round about May or June, when it's nice and warm out, I'll move them back outside and see what happens.

I recommend a great deal of patience when working with Baobabs. We're coming up on a year since the exciting first growth, and they're basically just sticks at the moment.

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