The Madagascar palm bears the Latin name Pachypodium lamerei and belongs to the dog poison family. Except for its German name, the plant has no common characteristics with palm trees. Their distribution area is on Madagascar. It is the only natural area of its kind in the world. It is concentrated in southern and central Madagascar.
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In living rooms and greenhouses, the Madagascar palm, which is also known under the name Dickfuß or Star of the Steppe, is a popular ornamental plant.
This plant is one of the succulents. It develops a cone-shaped trunk that is hardly branched and not lignified. It is created by nested leaf tissue. Its surface is covered with numerous thorns. This trunk can reach heights of around 200 centimeters in culture. In the natural range, the plants reach heights of up to six meters. Their annual growth is between 15 and 30 centimeters. The older the plants get, the faster they grow.
The special growth form of the Madagascar palm is an adaptation to the climatic conditions. It can store water in its trunk so that it can withstand longer dry periods without any problems. The succulent plant develops deciduous leaves that form a kind of crown. In the dry season the thick foot sheds its leaves. This is also an adaptation because it prevents the plant from losing excessive fluid.
Pachypodium lamerei develops deciduous leaves that are arranged alternately and crowd together like a tuft. They are divided into a three to four centimeter long stalk and a leathery leaf blade up to 25 centimeters in size. Their surface is dark green in color and provided with light central ribs.
The linearly shaped leaves arise on the warts. These structures are comparable to knots on twigs or sleeping eyes on rhizomes. The stipules, which are formed at the base of the stalk, are transformed into thorns in Madagascar palms. There are three thorns in a leaf axil.
Madagascar palms develop aesthetic single flowers, the five white colored petals of which are arranged like a star. Their base is fused into a funnel, which opens with whorl-like, superimposed petal edges. The center of the flower appears bright yellow. The organs of the hermaphrodite flowers are hidden deep in the corolla tube so that only certain pollinators can get to them.
The sepals are very short compared to the corolla tube. They are fused together and form a five-lobed calyx tube. Several years pass before the Madagascar palm blooms for the first time. In indoor culture, the plants rarely bloom.
In rare cases, Madagascar palms develop side shoots that can be used for propagation. These are cut off during the growth phase and dried in the air until no more milky juice comes out of the cut. You can put the offshoot with the leafless part in a glass of water or put in moist potting soil.
What you need to pay attention to:
- Use cactus soil as a growing substrate (9.05 € at Amazon *)
- Place the seed container in a bright and warm location
- Avoid direct sunlight
- if new leaves form, the offshoot should be repotted
Madagascar palms are not only suitable for greenhouses (34.95 € on Amazon *) in botanical gardens. They decorate living rooms and winter gardens as houseplant. The pulp is used as an ingredient in the manufacture of cosmetics.
Is Madagascar Palm Poisonous?
It is believed that Madagascar palms are poisonous, similar to other dog poison plants. So far there are no precise descriptions of the structure of the ingredients. Pachypodium lamerei is said to contain cardenolides, which are among the poisons that work on the heart. Symptoms of poisoning can occur in both humans and pets.
Protect your hands when you need to cut the plant. A white milky sap emerges from the wounds, which can severely burn the skin.
Which location is suitable?
The thick foot prefers a warm location with sufficient light, whereby the succulent does not like direct sunlight. A bright location in partial shade offers the plant ideal growth conditions. When choosing a location, you should pay attention to a balanced relationship between temperature and light. The warmer it is, the more light the plant needs. A suboptimal location encourages the spread of diseases and pests.
Place your Madagascar palm next to a west or east facing window. In summer you can put the plant outside. A protected place on the south side of the house is ideal. You can also place the succulent plant in covered corners on the terrace or balcony, because this is where the heat accumulates.
If your plant is outdoors, look out for:
- Protection from cold winds and rain
- Temperatures of at least 15 degrees Celsius at night
- Minimum nighttime temperatures of 18 degrees Celsius when the plant is young
What soil does the plant need?
The substrate should be rich in nutrients and have a loose structure. Use potting soil or potting soil that you loosen up with sand, coconut fiber or cactus soil. Such mixtures increase the permeability of the substrate and prevent the soil from storing too much moisture. Alternatively, you can use special mixtures for cacti and succulents. Since these substrates are poor in nutrients, you will need to fertilize or repot more frequently.
When an older Madagascar palm first develops flowers, you can collect seeds after successful pollination. You support seed formation by pollinating the flowers with a brush. After collecting the seeds, they are stored until the next spring. Pay attention to dry and dark storage conditions.
Sow the seeds thinly on a nutrient-poor growing medium and cover the seeds only lightly with soil. Moisten the substrate and cover the planter with a transparent film. Place the pot in a warm place with lots of light. You can place the cultivation vessel on a window sill with direct sunlight.
The germination success rate is highest at temperatures between 24 and 30 degrees Celsius. If you cannot guarantee these conditions, we recommend growing them in a heated greenhouse for the windowsill.
Madagascar palm in a pot
The thick foot is cultivated as a container plant. Make sure that the water can drain well. Waterlogging in the substrate affects plant health as the roots rot and fungal spores find optimal growth conditions. You can prevent waterlogging by choosing a pot with a drain hole.
Place pebbles, potsherds or expanded clay (€ 17.50 on Amazon *) over the drain hole. In this way, no substrate trickles out of the hole and the irrigation water can flow off better. Clay pots are better suited for cultivation than plastic vessels. The natural material can better regulate the moisture in the substrate, as the water penetrates the pores and evaporates on the outside.
Watering the Madagascar palm
In the natural area of the Madagascar palm, rainy seasons alternate with dry periods. While the plant grows in periods of high rainfall, they go into a dormant state when there is a lack of water. These conditions should be mimicked in cultivation. You can adjust the rainy and dry times to the seasons.
Starting in spring, start watering regularly. Let the substrate dry on the surface before each casting unit. Pour penetratingly so that the stem tissue can soak in water. The water requirement of the Madagascar palm is much higher than that of other succulents. The more you water, the higher the increase in leaf mass. In autumn, reduce the watering until the plant has shed all of its leaves. Then moisten the substrate with a little water so that it does not dry out completely and become cracked.
Use stale tap water and filter it if necessary. The plant does not tolerate hard water. Rainwater is well suited.
Pruning measures are superfluous with this exotic plant. A section of the crown causes the plant to die. Wilted or diseased leaves can be removed at any time with a sharp knife. If your plant grows too strong, you can reduce the watering a little. A change of location to a darker location also reduces the growth rate.
Fertilize Madagascar palm properly
Like watering, fertilizing is adapted to the natural growth phases. A nutrient supply is recommended during the growth phase. If this extends over the summer, you can start fertilizing in April. Give the plant additional nutrients in the form of a liquid complete fertilizer at regular intervals until September. This is administered in a weakly concentrated manner via the irrigation water. More than one application of fertilizer per month is not necessary.
If your plant grows and rests regardless of the season, orientate yourself on the fresh shoots. If these have been visible for four weeks, start with the first fertilization. Give the plant extra nutrients once a month. The measure is discontinued around four to six months after the first supply.
About every two to three years the roots have grown through the substrate in the tub and the plant needs a larger planter. Completely remove the old substrate and rinse off any residue under water. In order to touch the Madagascar palm with this measure, a multiple wrapping of the trunk with thick foil has proven itself. Gloves are not enough as the strong thorns penetrate the material.
How to transplant the succulent:
- in spring or before the growth phase
- Mix fresh and nutrient-rich substrate with sand
- Line the new bucket with pottery shards
- Insert the plant, fill it with substrate and water it
- do without additional fertilization
If you cultivate your thick-footed feet outside in summer, bring the bucket indoors in autumn. The temperature in the winter quarters at this time should be 18 degrees Celsius. A sharp drop in temperature between the outdoor location and winter quarters weakens the plant. Then move the bucket when the temperatures at both locations are similar.
If the Madagascar palm is in the house all year round, you can place the plant in a mild and light place in winter. Overwintering near a heater does not cause the plant any problems. She likes warm winter quarters where the thermometer does not drop below 18 degrees Celsius. Adjust the watering to the needs of the plant. The darker it is, the less you have to water.
If you don't cut back on care, the plant will keep its leaves. It does not go to sleep and uses the water for leaf development. However, periods of rest are important for the health of the plant. Weakened growth becomes susceptible to disease.
If the water drainage is not guaranteed, waterlogging can accumulate in the substrate. This causes the roots to rot. You should water with caution, especially in winter, as the plants require less water and the substrate quickly becomes too moist. A cold floor also promotes putrefaction.
Fungal spores can settle on the affected roots and damage the plant. It loses leaves and dies with severe infestation. As soon as the first signs of waterlogging appear, you should put the plant in fresh soil. Completely remove the old substrate and cut off rotten roots. In the next time you shouldn't water the plant so that the roots can recover.
Occasionally there may be an infestation by scale insects, which prefer to spread during the cold season. Dry air, warm temperatures and a location that is too dark promote the spread of the pests. They leave a sticky film on the underside of the leaf and on the trunk. Scale insects feed on the sap and secrete this honeydew. Dabbing the pests with a cotton swab soaked in tea tree oil has proven to be an effective control method. Special parasitic wasps serve as beneficial insects. Sustainable control usually requires the use of oil-based insecticides.
It is common for Madagascar palms to have brown to black leaf tips. The discoloration can spread to the entire leaf and indicates suboptimal environmental conditions. Various factors may come into question and should be checked in turn. A lack of nutrients, waterlogging and a pH value that is too high as well as drafts and a location that is too dark can damage the plant. Even if the roots hit the pot, this can lead to damage.
The already top-heavy plants shift their focus higher and higher as they grow. You can give the bucket additional stability by placing it in a larger pot. Fill the gap with pebbles. For smaller specimens, you can cover the substrate with larger stones.
- Pachypodium saundersii: Silver-gray trunk with warty thickenings, of various shapes. Leaves with a slightly wavy margin. Grows up to six meters high.
- Pachypodium geayi: narrow leaves, silvery green. Trunk cylindrical. Height four to five meters.
- Pachypodium rutenbergianum: Sparse branched, stem bottle-shaped. Flowers delicate pink. Grows three to eight feet tall.
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