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Palmer, L - Madagascar palm

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 5 months ago

 Pachypodium lamereie


By:Leland Palmer

Pachypodium lamereie is also known as “Madagascar Palm” to all you non fact memorizing scientists that are out there. Although it resembles both a palm and a cactus it is neither, it is a succulent in the Apocynaceae Family, related to lianas and also closer to home the, “Indian Hemp” plant found in north America traditionally used to make fiber. This plant is one of thousands of species original to only Madagascar, thanks to a huge earthquake 65 million years ago that separated it from India. Which now

only 18% of  the original 10,000 unique species still exist

today since humans began populating the island 2000 years ago, how cool are we.


The Madagascar palm is a relative of the Apocynaceae or Dogbane family of plants. These plants are generally dispersed in tropical regions and rain forests, but also range from small plants to large trees, so lets move on to the genus where the phenology really varies.





Figure 1 Madagascar with the "spiney Forest" highlighted in orange                     Figure 2 Madagascar in the world   (1 and2 Madagascar. org)                                                  Figure 3 A Madagascar Palm in full bloom (wikipedia)                                         




Pachypodium are all succulents that are morphologically adapted to live in extremely harsh climates such as Africa and Madagascar. The main identifying characteristic of a Pachypodium is the pachycaule trunk which is biologically programmed to store as much water as possible,see figure2. This water will take care of the plant through long terms of drought or shorter term spells of root desiccation in sun baked, rocky soil. These plants spines also play a vital role in their survival in the hottest of climates. The spines are situated in such a way to create a very tight micro-environment around the plant where moisture can collect and work its way straight down to the soil. This also sends water straight to the plant sprouts at the base of the plant where it creates its offspring after pollination.


Madagascar has many sub-climates from sea level desert, to mountainous rainforest, to thrive in such a varying ecosystem plants must learn to adapt so these plants create and live in microclimates. Madagascar palms are excellent at adapting to withstand low water with intermittent spells of rain by storing water in their trunk like the plant in the photo. They also thrive places of higher hydration growing taller and thinner being able to devote more energy into photosynthesizing bodies. But these plants aren’t adapted to live everywhere if it is too cold than they won’t grow at all, on Madagascar and on Africa these plants never grow above 2000ft above sea level due to lower humidity in the air. They mainly proliferate the southern deserts known as the “Spiny Forest,” kept dry by the Anisay Mountain Range acting as a moisture barrier, similar to how the Rocky Mountains creates Death Valley. Thus the south only receives 4-6cm of rainfall a year making this plant enjoy most desert biomes. Unfortunately for the Madagascar palm and many other plants, most of the natural habitat is being destroyed to make either charcoal or building materials. Fortunately for them, people all over the world enjoy there appearance so they are sold as house plants and can also survive outside in zones 10-12. Many landscapers include this plant in hotter climates or in indoor gardens. It is very doubtful that this plant will become an invasive species because of the conditions it takes to survive, it actually needs harsher places than people want to live.

            I’ve chosen this plant because it is a very happy looking cactus and resembles something you would expect to see on some tropical vacation, from far away. Than once you approach it to find some coconuts you realize that it could potentially rip your face off with spinescence. I would love to get one of these plants in my house especially because they can take some real abuse. Also they have beautiful large white flowers, that only bloom indoors if you are really lucky.


            Pachypodium Lamerei, also know as the Madagascar Palm, is originally from can you guess, the island of Madagascar 200 miles off the East Coast of Africa. Madagascar split off from Africa 200 million years ago during a huge earthquake causing massive tectonic movement, similar to what California is going to experience in the next million. Because of this confinement, Madagascar’s species have been able to thrive and change unlike their relatives in Africa and without many of the poisonous snakes and spiders found there. There are also many microclimates across the island of Madagascar, which is only slightly larger than our wonderful and all great president’s home state of Texas. This island has everything from arid xeric deserts where the Madagascar Palm is found, to foggy mountain rainforests at almost ten thousand feet above sea level. Madagascar is a truly lush environment that is facing many ecological hardships involving deforestation and slash and burn agriculture which is leading to the island eroding itself from the inside out.

            The Madagascar Palm spends most of its time lounging around the south-west side of the island where there is very little rain and it gets extremely hot. Madagascar is like a great plateau which is high in he middle and lower toward the coasts, thus creating a rain barrier. Consequently, the north and east or windward side of the island is home to all the tropical rain forest, the west side is dryer and has more tropical dry forest, than the south side is dryer still and is covered in desert, xeric shrub land, and the “thorny forest”. The deserts of Madagascar are very hot and can reach temperatures of One hundred and thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit and receive an annual rainfall of less than ten inches with spells of to seven to twelve months without rainfall. Plants in these places often evapotranspirate off more water than they receive in rain causing them to develop sophisticated root systems that can stretch down to find water or expand rapidly when there is water present. Luckily for plants in this area, humans find it too harsh to graze cattle or to cultivate the arid soil, potentially saving them at this point from meeting the same fate as Madagascar’s forests.

            Madagascar is a very poor island that doesn’t have the means to educate most of its citizens; many people work the land everyday to keep from starving to death. It is this survival need that has cause nearly Eighty Percent of the forest to be cut down either for grazing room, heating purposes, or to grow beans and other crops to feed their families. Slash and burn agriculture was introduced to the island nearly two thousand years ago and was sustainable then because the population was much lower, now it is just destroying all the trees on the island. Unfortunately it is the roots of these trees that hold the soil together, along with cattle herding which breaks up top soil brutally while stripping all grass and smaller vegetation to feed the animals. Than every time it rains more and more of the red soil is sent down the streams and in to the rivers, than out into the Indian Ocean as the island slowly bleeds to death. Population on the island is just growing too high to support communities that rely on the forest alone to provide all their foods, shelter, fiber, medicine, poison, and drugs. There is going to be a great need for humanitarian aid in many of these regions after all the trees are gone and the lands are depleted, and Madagascar’s government doesn’t have nearly enough money to feed all these people.

            Luckily nearly seven-thousand square kilometers of land in eight different parks are already under federal protection and Madagascar has been trying for years to reduce and reverse the negative affects humans are having on the island. In 1991 the Malagasy government started to enact a plan that would hopefully save the national ecological treasures of Madagascar. The first phase was to involve the inhabitants that live around these hotspots and to get them to stop with the slash and burn and try to get them to save these areas and hopefully tourism would bring money to the regions. Secondly, the government began to create parks that protected the most important and isolated places that would keep the ecosystem infrastructure intact. The government than went a step further in helping local businesses that support sustainable practices, such as raising rain forest butterflies to sell to zoos around the world. Hopefully with practices like these and an end to destroying forest land, Madagascar will thrive for decades to come, and maybe one day we in America will see the destructive consequences of destroying our own forests.






Pachypodium[internet].[updated 2008 Jan26]:Wikipedia;[cited Feb16].Available from www.wikipedia.com

Madagascar Spiny Thickets[internet].[Updated 2008]:World Wildlife Fund;[cited Feb 16].Available fromwww.worldwildlife.org

Anderson M.2002.World Encyclopedia of Cacti and Succulents. Pittsburg(Pa):Timber Press

Madagascar[internet].[updated 2008 Feb17]:Ecology;[cited Mar4]. Available from www.madagascar.org


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