The Madagascar Palm – A Palm That Isn’t A Palm At All


If you’ve been thinking about purchasing a Madagascar palm plant and have read some articles describing the plight of the Madagascar palm trees, which are facing possible extinction, you needn’t be too alarmed. Of course it’s an unpleasant fact if the palm trees on the island of Madagascar, and there are a number of different species of them, are indeed facing the threat of extinction. The plant we’re talking about here however, while it is a native of Madagascar, and is called a Madagascar palm, is not a palm at all, and it is not facing extinction. It is a succulent plant, closely related to the cactus family.


This plant, which has been given the botanical name Pachypodium lamerei, is a tropical perennial that can serve as a landscape plant in a hot weather climate, such as in Florida, or as a house plant in cooler regions. It is somewhat cool weather tolerant, and can be grown in USDA Zone 9, although it should be protected or moved inside during a spell of unusually cold weather, as it is not frost tolerant. As a house plant, some care must be taken as to its location, as the trunk of the plant is covered with extremely sharp spines, which could cause pain if someone should accidentally bump into the plant.


If It Looks Like A Palm…


P. lamerei is called a palm for the simple reason that it looks very much like a palm. While the plant typically grows to a height of about 10 feet, it can in some instances reach a height of 20 feet or more. When seeing one of these plants for the first time, one could almost expect to find dates or coconuts growing among the top branches.


P. lamerei can assume several interesting shapes. It grows as a single trunk tree, but quite often several are planted closely together, giving the impression of a single tree consisting of several trunks. When planted in close proximity, the trunks will tend to bow out in different directions as the tree grows and matures. The leaves, which somewhat resemble the fronds of a palm tree, are at the ends of branches that extend from the top of the tree.  The trunks often take on somewhat of a bottle-shape, which tends to confirm the fact that we are indeed dealing with a succulent, and not with a species of palm tree. The plant is not a particularly fast grower, and grows even more slowly when grown in a container, making it ideal as a house plant or a patio plant.


Why The Planting Location Is Of Some Importance


If the Madagascar palm is planted out of doors, it should never be planted too near a recreational area, or near a sidewalk, where a passerby could inadvertently be stabbed by one of its sharp spines. Being the subject of a lawsuit because a pet tree stabbed a neighbor’s child, or a passing pedestrian, is something most of us don’t need. Care also needs to be taken when planting the trees in a group, as they could eventually become somewhat hazardous to navigate around. One owner, who has one of these plants as a house plant, reported that the plant fell over one day, and while he was close enough to keep it from falling all the way to the floor, did  not attempt to do so because of the sharp spines.


P. lamerei features white blossoms which can appear at almost anytime of the year, depending somewhat on the region in which it’s planted. This plant often blooms at several different times in the course of a year.  It needs to be planted in sandy soil, which naturally drains quickly. It definitely does not require constant watering, and for that matter barely requires occasional watering. Being a succulent, it stores its own water supply for long periods of time. If watered too often, the leaves tend to turn black and drop off, and if left for any period of time in standing water or moist soil, the roots will rot. Giving the plant water once a month is usually sufficient.


While the plant does tend to grow more slowly when grown in a container, there still may come a time when, as a house plant, the top may approach the ceiling of the room it’s located in. There’s not always a great deal that can be done in that case, as there would be a limit as to much pruning could be done, or even attempted. In an area where frost is a rarity, it could be moved outside. Otherwise, the plant may have to be put up for adoption.


In spite of the sharp spines, and the fact that every part of this plant is poisonous, owners are almost unanimously happy with the Madagascar palms they own, and few report problems with the exception of a plant falling over, or one that is approaching the ceiling. Owners especially like the way the branches extend out from the top, usually in a somewhat unpredictable manner. One thing that can definitely be said about the Madagascar palm is it is a plant that certainly has a lot of character.