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“Madagascar Palm” Pachypodium lamerei

Vontaka, Hazotavoahangy, Paquipódio

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Description

The Madagascar Palm, Pachypodium lamerei, looks like it has an identity crisis.  On the one hand, it wants to be the center of attention with its regal crown of slender leaves, but on the other hand, it has trouble letting people get too close. Unfortunately for tree huggers, the Madagascar Palm is actually a succulent, and its sharp spikes enforce the physical boundaries it insists on. Hailing, unsurprisingly, from Madagascar, this Beauty can grow up to six feet in a cooler indoor environment. In an ideal outdoor environment, though, the Pachypodium lamerei can grow from 15 to 30 feet!

While it is difficult to mistake the Madagascar Palm, it actually has an identical twin.  The Pachypodium Geayi is nearly identical when both are adolescents. The key difference between the two is that the Lamerei has thicker and shorter green leaves, while the Pachypodium Geayi has longer thin leaves with a pink midrib. The Pachypodium Geayi is also known as Silver Madagascar Palm, due to the slight silver tint of the leaves.  The Lamerei is a slightly faster grower that is reportedly more likely to create branches, but the Geayi typically grows larger.   Unlike the Pachypodium Ambongense or the Pachypodium Horombenset, the Pachypodium Lamerei rarely grows limbs in an indoor environment.  In its home soil of Madagascar, it often grows beautiful branches, further likening itself to a tree.

I have read claims that the sap of the Pachypodium lamerei was/is used by Madagascar natives to poison the tips of arrows.  This seems to be somewhat supported by the paper “THE MIKEA HUNTER-GATHERERS OF SOUTHWEST MADAGASCAR: ECOLOGY AND SOCIOECONOMICS” by Daniel Stiles, which claims that the Mikea people of Southwest Madagascar use Pachypodium geayi (known to them as “Vontakay”) as a poison to hunt native bush pig as well as to make bark cloth. The Pachypodium geayi and Pachypodium lamerei are nearly identical in appearance, and in western literature, both species are attributed to the Malagasy names: Vontakay and Vontaka. Although differnent species, they are likely similar enough to both be used for poisoned arrows.

Additionally, as a nerdy side note, “Star Trek – The Next Generation fans” will note that this alien-looking succulent is at the back of Counselor Troi’s office.

Young Pachypodium lamerei are not very difficult to find online or in specialty plant shops.  A plant about a foot tall will run you about $50.  Due to its slow growth and unwieldy size, fully mature plants are more difficult to come by and are significantly more expensive.

Magnus Manske, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons, Katja Schulz from Washington, D. C., USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons, H. Zell, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons, Tangopaso, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Care Instructions

Care Level

Due to its special care requirements regarding fertilization and high heat and sun, we recommend this plant to intermediate plant parents and above.

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Temperature

Pachypodium are not cold-hardy. Do not let the temperature fall below 50 degrees. Pachypodiums grow in high heat; some have been recorded growing in temperatures above 150 degrees F

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Toxicity

This plant is mildly toxic to plants and animals. I do suspect, however, that the spikes will ward off most pets and curious roommates.

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Water

Pachypodiums are a little bit different from cacti or some succulents.  While they are from arid drought-prone environments, they do not like to have their soil go bone dry.  These roots are very dense, delicate, and often close to the surface.  You can improve your chances by choosing a potting medium that retains and slowly releases water (see the soil block a couple of inches down).

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Fertilizer

During the summer months, or during your plant’s growing period, fertilize once a month with either twice diluted liquid cactus fertilizer or a light dose of solid fertilizer.

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Sunlight

Bright full sun is the best way to ensure that your Pachypodium will thrive. Do not be surprised if leaves begin to fall during the winter months.

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Propogation

dips cuttings in hormone rooting powder and inserts them not too deeply in a potting mixture. Best results come from taking small cuttings, preferably in spring, and providing warm, moist (but not wet) conditions with bright indirect light.

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Humidity

An average household humidity of 40% will suffice for your plant.

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Soil

A well-draining soil is necessary to avoid root rot. We highly recommend a mixture of coir, perlite, and orchid bark.  The coir is fungal resistant and does not easily become waterlogged while the perlite oxygenates and slowly releases water.  We recommend in this case using orchid bark for a similar reason to the perlite, but with the added benefit of it releasing nutrients into the soil.

Read more about making your own potting medium here!

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Botany

The Pachypodium lamerei is a stem Succulent mostly found in the wilds of Madagascar.  The Pachypodium Lamerei grow in multiple climates including a humid equatorial climate with a long dry season, a dry climate semi-arid, and a dry climate fully arid.  Within these climates, the Pachypodium Lamerei grows out in the open with uninterrupted sunlight. This plant is best adapted to high heat and mid to low humidity.  It is considered to be of the Least concern by the IUCN in terms of its extinction vulnerability.

The Pachypodium seedling germinates with two seed leaves, making it a dicot. When fully mature and in the wild, the Lamerei can grow 15 to 30 feet and produce a bunch of branches. Even in an “ideal” indoor setting, your Lamerei will likely never reach its full height or produce more than a couple of branches.

The Pachypodium Lamerei fully matures into a tree.  As a dicot, the Lamerei has a primary taproot. Its trunk is cylindrical, solid, succulent, and covered in spines. When first grown the trunk is green but browns with age.

The Madagascar Palm grows linear leaves with entire margins that remain at the top of the plant. these leaves grow in a spiraled pattern and die off toward the bottom. Its leaves are mucronate, their attachments are petiolate, and the leaves’ bases are cuspidate.  The leaves have a single parallel vein, and their surface is smooth.

Supplies We Recommend

Pro Coco Coir Brick
This coco brick can be used with a 70:30 ratio to perlite. Don’t forget to add fertilizer as this coco doesn’t contain any fertilizer. Commercial soil bags usually do contain some slow-release fertilizer or some compost. This mix contains none, so you must add it yourself. This is actually an excellent thing because most houseplant soil mixes contain a fertilizer that is too high in nitrogen for Pachypodiums. 

Horticultural Grade Premium Perlite
It would be best if you mixed this with the coir. 70% coir and 30% perlite should do the trick.

 

Orchid bark
Rather than using chemical fertilizers for Pachypodium, I recommend using bark or organic material.  Often time an abundance of nitrogen can be detrimental to succulents’ root health.

LED Dual Full LED Plant Grow Tube Light
Pachypodiums love the sun, they love light, and they love the heat.  I have found it difficult in my northeasterly environment to provide the amount of sun they prefer.  I use this grow light because it is self-contained and relatively affordable.

 

If you’re using our potting mix regimen/mixture, you don’t need to add anything except fertilizer to the base we recommended. Add the fertilzier recommended above. Our post about potting media is really detailed and should tell you anything you need to know. We also provide a mixture that can be adapted for almost all of your houseplants. You can read that post here.

 

Where to Buy!

Coming soon! We vet our shops to ensure that you get the quality plant you deserve. Please check back soon!

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