Knobby brown seed pods hang down from branches covered in ovate green leaves

Human Beings, Baobabs, and Tamarinds: An Evolutionary Complex

Friday, February 18, 2022

11 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Baobab (Adansonia digitata) and tamarind (Tamarindus indica) are two well-known fruit and medicinal trees of the African savanna complex that were introduced to India beginning some 5,000 years ago. The long history of African participation in the Indian Ocean trade is documented in the earliest historical accounts of the region, and there is growing interest in the African contribution to the spread of African plants such as baobab and tamarind to territories of the Indian Ocean. Similarly, historical records and the distribution of old baobab and tamarind trees in the Americas suggest these species were earliest introduced by Africans to the historic sugar-growing regions of Brazil and the Caribbean over 400 years ago. In this talk, renowned anthropologist and ethnobotanist John Rashford, Ph.D., explains why these quite different trees share the name “tamarind” in India and the Caribbean, and the explanation suggests the possibility of an evolutionary complex involving human beings and the baobab and tamarind. Since the tamarind regenerates readily from human incidentally dispersed seeds and the baobab does not—which makes tamarind a common tree wherever it grows, and baobab a rare tree overwhelmingly dependent on human planting—tamarind is used to name baobab outside Africa wherever both trees are found growing in the same location, and where people eat the similar-tasting fruit of both trees.

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