Madagascar Palm Care Guide
Pachypodium lamerei is a native of southern Madagascar as well as Africa and is actually not a palm at all, but a succulent and a member of the cactus family. This interesting plant may grow as tall as 15 feet in its natural environment, and enjoys much favor as a houseplant. This species is one of nearly 200 plants considered endangered in Madagascar, due in large part to deforestation for the development of agricultural land.
Worth noting is that all parts of this species are poisonous, so care must be taken with children and pets in the home.
With a long, gray trunk covered in 2-3" spindles, this species almost has the look of a pokey pineapple. The trunk is sturdy and typically columnar though some specimens adopt an inverse tapered look, earning it the moniker of "Club Foot". Though not a true palm, the long, glossy green leaves have a palmate appearance. Once mature, the plant may produce lovely white flowers with a yellow center, that measure two to three inches across. The seed pods resemble cucumbers and if left in place, will open along their seam revealing a bevy of white, winged seeds. This plant rarely branches.
Being a semitropical, this plant loves the sun and heat. If kept outside in summer in temperatures above 100° F it should be offered shade from the full afternoon sun. It should be brought inside if temperatures dip below 50° F. If the Madagascar Palm is to be kept as an indoor plant year-round, be sure to place it near a south-facing window if possible so that it receives enough sunlight to continue producing healthy foliage.
Contrary to rumor, not all succulents thrive on a minimum of water. P. Lamerei likes to be kept consistently moist, especially in summer. Check the surface of the soil twice a day to make sure that it hasn't dried out too far down into the pot. In winter, watering can be decreased somewhat. It is a drought-tolerant species, however it will lose some leaves if allowed to become too dry. A humidity tray is a great way to offer extra moisture to the Madagascar Palm, particularly if kept indoors.
This species is not a heavy feeder. You may fertilize every few months during the growing season.
Because this is not a typical bonsai plant, regular pruning is not needed and the plant cannot be wired. However, branching may be encouraged by cutting the top off of the plant.
During the winter this plant may lose some leaves, but growth will begin again in the spring.
P. Lamerei can sometimes be propagated by cuttings. It can be challenging to do so due to the spiny nature of the plant but it is possible. Examine the trunk for offsets between the spines. Remove them carefully either by snapping them off or using pruning shears, being careful not to injure yourself on the thorns. Allow the cuttings to bleed out and dry for about a week (humid or cool conditions prolong this process). Once the wound end is dry and healed place the cuttings upright in moist potting soil and place in a sunny window, or outdoors if the weather is warm. Keep the soil damp until the plant sets roots.
To propagate by seeds, collect the pods in late summer to fall, and allow them to dry for about 1-4 weeks to ensure complete ripening. Open the pod and discard any seeds that have gone black or succumbed to rot. Soak the healthy seeds in warm, unchlorinated water for about 24 hours. Sow in moist, coarse sand in a sunny location that averages between 70° and 80° F. It's a good idea to keep the soil moist by way of a spray bottle of warm water, to avoid disruption. Germination may take a few months and continue up to six months after sowing.
Pachypodium is a slow grower so it may not need frequent repotting. You can determine the appropriate timing by observing whether the plant has become root-bound, or becomes wobbly at the top as a result of being top heavy. Fujiyama soil mix with some added grit for better drainage will do fine. Repotting may be carried out at any time during the year. Be very careful during this process as the spines make it difficult to grasp the stem properly.
Insects/Pests & Diseases
Madagascar Palm can be vulnerable to mites or whitefly. These generally attack the undersides of the leaves. They can usually be rinsed off with a mixture of dish soap in warm water; repeat this process after a couple of weeks. If that doesn't work you may need to apply a non-toxic insecticide every couple months or so in order to keep these pests away.