New giant palm discovered in Madagascar

A new genus of palm that is so tall it can be seen on Google Earth has been discovered in Madagascar.

The plant will be named by palm specialist John Dransfield in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society today (17 January).

It has a huge 18m trunk and fan leaves that are 5m across. Its giant terminal inflorescence bears hundreds of tiny flowers. It is monocarpic, meaning that once it fruits the entire tree collapses and dies.

The palm was discovered by a local resident walking with his family in a remote area of north-western Madagascar. It was concealed at the foot of a limestone hill.

Botanist Dransfield, honorary research fellow at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and co-author of The Palms of Madagascar, had never seen the palm before, despite visiting the island many times since the 1980s. He said to HW: "How on earth could I have missed this gigantic palm? Ever since we started work on The Palms of Madagascar in the 1980s, we have made discovery after discovery - new species and new genera - but to me this is probably the most exciting of them all."

He concluded that the life-cycle must be unusually long for this flowering-and-death sequence to have never been detected before.

Plant material was collected from the palm by Dransfield's Malagasy student Mijoro Rakotoarinivo, who climbed the adjacent limestone hill and bent over the tree. Analysis at Kew found it was a new, undescribed genus and species. DNA tests place it in a group of palms that grow across Arabia, Thailand and China but have never been seen on Madagascar before.

Less than 100 plants exist and a village committee has been formed to protect the palm. Fences have been erected to excluded cattle. Local people are working with Kew and the Millennium Seed Bank team to sell seeds to raise income for the villagers and to distribute the seeds to botanic gardens and growers around the world.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Read These Next



The range of colours and flowering times makes for cheerful and economic displays, Miranda Kimberley reports.

Pitches - seeds and consumables

Pitches - seeds and consumables

The right seeding and inputs are essential for keeping grass in top condition and ensuring that pitches look and perform at their best, says Sally Drury.



Customers do not often know about the different leaf colours and shapes offered by hollies, Miranda Kimberley reports.

Opinion... Standardisation good for the trade

Opinion... Standardisation good for the trade

Horticulture could benefit from streamlining in the supply chain.

Opinion... Get rid of plastics in Horticulture

Opinion... Get rid of plastics in Horticulture

Blue Planet II eloquently showed the rich tapestry of life in the oceans. It also focused public awareness on plastic pollution damaging wildlife.

Opinion... Gardening needs better promotion

Opinion... Gardening needs better promotion

British horticultural firms and organisations have not been the best at working together to promote our industry.

Follow us on:
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Google +
Horticulture Jobs
More Horticulture Jobs

Horticulture Week Top 60 Ornamentals nurseries

See our exclusive ranking of ornamentals nurseries by annual turnover. 

Tim Edwards

Boningales Nursery chairman Tim Edwards on the business of ornamentals production

Read Tim Edwards

Pest & Disease Tracker bulletin 

The latest pest and disease alerts, how to treat them, plus EAMU updates, sent direct to your inbox.

Sign up here

Are you a landscape supplier?

Horticulture Week Landscape Project Leads

If so, you should be receiving our new service for Horticulture Week subscribers delivering landscape project leads from live, approved, planning applications across the UK.

Peter Seabrook

Inspiration and insight from travels around the horticultural world

Read more Peter Seabrook articles