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close this bookTraditional Food Plants of Kenya (National Museum of Kenya, 1999, 288 p.)
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Adansonia digitata L.

Bombacaceae

Chonyi: muyu, mauyu (fruits) Digo: mbuyu Embu: muramba English: baobab Giriama: mbuyu, muuyu Kamba: muamba, mwaamba, mauyu Kambe: muyu, mauyu (fruits) Maa: olmesera Malakote: mubuyu Mbeere: muramba Meru: muramba Orma: yak Samburu: lamai Sanya: yaka Somali: yak (Tana River), jag Swahili: mbuyu, muuyu Taita: mlamba (mbale) Tharaka: muramba, muguna-kirindi

Description: A grotesque-looking deciduous tree to 15 m, with a disproportionately large trunk and twisted branching habit. Trunk soft, fibrous with a smooth grey surface. LEAVES: Digitate. Leaflets to 13 cm long. FLOWERS: Large, white. FRUIT: To 25 cm long, with shiny yellowish green or rusty soft hairs and a hard oval or round shell, often grooved longitudinally. Seeds hard, embedded in a cream or white pulp.

Ecology: Somalia to southern Africa. In Kenya, a common plant in the coastal region but which also grows further inland, e.g. Taveta, Kibwezi, south-eastern Makueni, dry parts of Kitui, Meru National Park and at Torosei in Kajiado, 0-1,300 m. Also planted as an ornamental outside this range. Grows in dry low country in Sterculia-Delonix alata-Acacia-Commiphora bushland and in low, hot, high-humidity coastal areas. Soils varied, but common on red soils, sandy loam and in rocky areas. Rainfall: 300-900 mm. Zones II-VI.

Uses: FOOD: The dry cream-coloured pulp is eaten raw (+++) or is dissolved in water, stirred to a milky state (milk may be added), seeds sieved off and the juice used as sauce (mboga) or added to porridge. Coconut juice is normally added (Giriama). Seeds are roasted like groundnuts (Kitui, Tharaka). Soft tuber-like root tips are cooked and eaten in times of famine. Germinating seed roots are also eaten. Young leaves are used as a vegetable (Giriama, Mbeere). Normally mixed with more coarse vegetables like cassava leaves (Giriama). The pulp-coated seeds (mabuyu) are coloured, sugar-coated and sold as sweets in coastal towns (Swahili).

MEDICINAL: Bark decoction used for steam bathing of infants with high fever. Juice made from pulp is drunk to treat fever (Giriama).

OTHER: Fibre from trunk used as string and for weaving baskets and ropes. To obtain fibre, two cuts, one above and the other below, are made on the trunk and strips of string pulled out (the trunk is fibrous from surface to the centre). Strings for baskets are first chewed to soften them (Kamba). Tree used for placing beehives. Trunks damaged, e.g. by elephants, are used as shelter in shambas (Kamba, Giriama) and as a hiding place during war (Tharaka). Bark used for roofing and making temporary structures (Giriama). Appearance of new leaves or flowers signals the start of the rainy season (Kamba, Mbeere). Fallen trees improve the soil quality considerably. Fruit shells are used as fuelwood, containers, bowls and for making a variety of items, including rat traps (Giriama). The fruit pulp mixed with fig-tree latex is used as birdlime. The shoot and trunk are eaten by elephants, the trunk is also a source of water. Fallen leaves are eaten by livestock.


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CULTURAL/BELIEFS: A tree surrounded by complex myths and beliefs among most peoples in areas where it grows. Young plants not cut at all (Tharaka), while large trees are not debarked during or just before rains (Kamba) for fear of rain failure. A sacred and peaceful tree (Giriama). A cut tree is said to bleed like a human being, and this brings bad luck to whoever cuts it (Giriama). A person is believed to turn into the opposite sex if he/she walks round it with a goat (Meru).

COMMERCIAL: Large quantities of fruits harvested and sold in coastal areas. Coloured pulp sold as sweets. Fibre sold in markets (Tseikuru, Mwingi, Tharaka). Baskets (ciondo, syondo) sold in curio shops. Usually more expensive than sisal baskets.

Management: Propagated by seed. Scarify or put seed in boiling water and let cool together. Naturally the seed may take several years before germination, hence the belief that it only germinates after abandoning the present homestead (Giriama). Very slow growing, the tree should not be planted near houses. Lateral roots may reach a length of 100 m or more. It is said to produce its first fruits after 60 years (Kitui).

Season: Flowers in October. Leaves in November-December. Fruits ready in July-September.

Status: Locally very common.

Remarks: Eating much fruit pulp with little else is said to cause weakness and swelling of joints. Up to three types of the tree are recognized by farmers through taste (some sweeter than others), and size and shape of the tree or its fruits as well as season of flowering.


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