Africa's famed upside-down baobab trees' bizarre evolution revealed  

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New research into the "upside-down" baobab tree's complicated evolution shows it originated on Madagascar. It's unclear how it got from Madagascar to Australia.  

The stately baobab tree can live thousands of years and reach to 82 feet (25 meters). This tree is known as "the tree of life" because its leaves store water, give food, and even medicine.   

The baobab (Adansonia)'s origins are unknown because it's found in multiple places. Adansonia digitata is found in 32 African countries and A. gregorii in northeastern Australia. Madagascar has six more indigenous species.  

Researchers examined the genomes of all eight Adansonia species and used data on their present distribution and past climatic and geologic circumstances to reconstruct the plant's evolution.  

In a new study published Wednesday (May 15) in Nature, the scientists found that the eight current baobab species likely evolved on Madagascar 41.1 million years ago and the first baobab arose 21 million years ago.  

Using hybridization and reticulate evolution, the daughter species diversified between 20.6 and 12.6 million years ago. Mountain uplift and volcanism created new ecological niches with their own temperatures and soil, perhaps helping them split into distinct species.   

How these trees reached continental Africa and Australia is unknown. Some have suggested that ocean currents and humans carried baobab fruits to Australia.  

Baobabs, known as "upside-down trees" for their sparse canopies that mimic tree roots, are threatened by drought and human meddling, and three species are endangered or severely endangered.   

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