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Copyright © John Dransfield

Copyright © John Dransfield

Copyright © John Dransfield

Copyright © John Dransfield

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Tahina spectabilis

Blessed Palm

Undoubtedly the most exciting discovery in the world of palms in the new millennium, this magnificent, massive fan palm was found by accident by cashew-grower Xavier Metz and his family in a single, small area in the northeast of Madagascar, where it grows in low, seasonally dry forest or scrubland that may be flooded during the rainy season, at the foot of heavily eroded limestone hills. It represents not only just a new species but an entirely new genus in the palm family. Some amazing background to its discovery can be read up in several threads on the internet forum of the International Palm Society at http://palmtalk.org/ Tahina grows a massive, solitary trunk, which holds a giant crown of enormous, slightly costapalmate and completely circular fan leaves with numerous stiff segments. The petioles are whitish towards the base. It has already made the rounds through the mainstream press as the 'exploding' or 'self-destructing' palm, a somewhat sensationalist allusion to the fact that it flowers only once in its life, with a totally spectacular, giant, whitish inflorescence that forms from the center of the crown. After the fruits have matured and have been harvested by lemurs, who thereby distribute the seeds, the palm is spent, the massive structure slowly collapses and the palm dies. This flowering habit is not unique in Tahina, in fact many palms exhibit what botanists refer to as a hapaxanthic mode of growth, a few examples being Corypha, Metroxylon and many climbing palms. Really noteworthy, however, are its closest relatives in the palm family and their distribution. It is most closely allied to Kerriodoxa from Thailand and Chuniophoenix from China, easily seen in the seeds alone, and one can speculate that Tahina is a relic on Madagascar, sharing a common ancestor with the above from the time when the Indian subcontinent was only just beginning its northward voyage and separating off from Madagascar, some 70 to 50 million years ago. In cultivation it would be a breathtaking ornamental for the large garden or park, and would most likely do best in the dry tropics. It could doubtlessly be induced to grow in many other tropical and frost free subtropical areas. It seems that growth is rather fast, but it is entirely unclear how long a plant will take to flower. Much like Kerriodoxa, the seed produces a moderately long sinker to anchor the base of the plant well in the soil. Deep pots would be recommended. With a total known population in its native habitat of just 92 individuals and perhaps 100 small seedlings, the palm is very rare and efforts with the aim to protect its natural habitat have been initiated and are now managed by Xavier Metz and John Dransfield. The distribution of seeds appears to be the best way to establish some cultivated populations for ex-situ conservation and at the same time generate funds for the nearby villagers who „own and manage" the habitat of the palm under a relatively new law in Madagascar. The villagers are now very aware of the uniqueness of the palm and understand that flowering is probably a rather rare event. Any profits resulting from the sale of the seeds distributed under this conservation program will go to their community. The funds are destined towards village development, such as a pump for the village well, and aim at keeping cattle and fire away from the palms. The approach is that when the villagers can see that there is some financial return from the palm, they will likely want to preserve it and its habitat.

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germination comments by our visitors
For general germination instructions click here.

Also see plant cultivation comments below.

Seeds from this species ...

... are very easy to germinate and need up to 1 month to sprout.
These were a delight to sprout because they were so easy. I soaked them overnight then promptly put them in a microwavable plastic box ( the kind they use for take out in restaurants) and filled it with "boiled and baked" cocopeat - I first boil cocopeat to sterilize it then bake them in the oven to get them to the desired moisture level. I live in the tropics so the ambient temperature is warm to begin with but I did place the box in front of our airconditioner exhaust so it gets hotter there-- maybe 38 or 39 degrees Celcius. Within 2 days the seeds have "popped". A small round root tip is visible in the ridges of the seed. After 3 days the roots are about an inch long. These are really fast. I planted them in tall 3 gallon pots when their roots were 3 to 4 inches long. All seeds that did, germinated within a week. I got 80% germination-- 8 out of 10 seeds. I kept the others hoping that they'd somehow pop later on but they never did -- even when they passed the floating test.
Submitted on 03/06/2010 by Gene Barcelona

... are very easy to germinate and need up to 3 months to sprout.
The outer shell was removed on the 13th March and the seeds put in to soak in water for 3 days, changing the water daily. The seeds were then sown individually in small plastic bags in the shade. I noticed the first 2 seedlings on Tuesday, 6th May, approximately 50 days from planting. Up till to-day 7 of the 10 seeds have germinated.
Submitted on 16/07/2008 by one of our visitors

... are very easy to germinate and need up to 1 month to sprout.
Germinated within 1 week. Placed seeds in a community pot with 2 parts peat, 1 part sand, 1 part perlite. Placed community pot inside black plastic bag and left in full sun. Temperatures were 70-85F. 90% germination within one week.
Submitted on 04/04/2008 by William Sterling DeBoe PiousPalms@aol.com

... are very easy to germinate and need up to 1 month to sprout.
These seeds have to be the quickest germinators ever!!! I received 10 fresh seeds on Thursday, Feb 28. 2008 and soaked 5 for 24 hrs and left 5 seeds unsoaked. On Saturday Mar. 1, 2008 I sowed the seeds in a mix of peat, bark chips, sand and saw dust in both plastic bags and plastic containers. Four seeds were placed in heat (85-95F) and six in a little less heat (70F- 82F). So far, in 5 days, 5 out of 10 seeds!!! 3 in the hotter temps and 2 in the milder temps. Generally, had success no matter what method I used. Great seeds for beginner enthusiasts! Very very easy and quick.
Submitted on 05/03/2008 by Michael Ferreira miguelf_9@hotmail.com

... are very easy to germinate and need up to 1 month to sprout.
I soak my seed in a warm water for 3 daysI put my 10 seeds in sealed bag with 20% sand 40% perlite 20% vermiculite and 20% peat at 32°C (90F) day and 20°C (70F) night. after 3 days, 3 have sprout !!and it is not endedvery easy for this very rare new genus palm !
Submitted on 01/03/2008 by Succulentum jbdouet@free.fr

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plant cultivation comments by our visitors
Also see germination commnets above.

Plants from this species ...

... are of average ornamental value
In San Juan Metro Manila in Philippines they need very little care and grow fast.
This plant seems to be very happy in our tropical climate. Based on my notes, after the seeds "popped", in a month the first leaf spear broke out of the ground. Two weeks later the first leaf is fully open but was only about 90 degree spread and only about 4 inches wide. After about a year, the seedlings are on their 8th leaf already. The latest leaves have about a 180 degree spread (half circle) and are about a foot across. About 2 years later (the time I am writing this), the leaves are about 2. 5 feet across and are fully round. No visible trunk yet though. They form a "heel" and are pulling themselves deeper into the soil. They seem to like the heat and a lot of water. I've exposed them to our full summer sun after just a year and they never showed any burns. They seem to relish it. During the rainy season, the one I planted in the ground was flooded for few days and the soil is often soggy but it didn't bother the seedling. I did notice though that the one planted in the ground slowed down leaf production during the hot summer months when we weren't watering it as much. I've had no problems with them with either pests or diseases. One peculiar thing I noticed with them is that they open their leaves fully, before the petiole even pushes out of the crown. Quite the opposite from most other palms. This seems to be an easy and hassle free palm for in hot and humid climates.
Submitted on 03/06/2010 by Gene Barcelona

win € 75 worth of seeds
by writing a plant cultivation comment about how to cultivate the plants of this species. Click here!

If you wish to read more on palm cultivation, we highly recommend Ornamental Palm Horticulture by Timothy K. Broschat and Alan W. Meerow, available in our bookshop.

Ratings and comments reflect individual experiences and the views of our visitors. They do not necessarily describe the most appropriate methods, nor are they necessarily valid for all seeds or plants of this species. Germination and plant cultivation success depends on many different factors; nevertheless, these experiences will hopefully aid you in your effort to get the best germination results from our seeds and the best growth results from your plants.

We recommend:
The Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms

The Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms
by Robert Lee Riffle, Paul Craft, Scott Zona

2nd edition
Completely revised and updated

Hardcover - 528 pages
11 x 8.5 inches

Our rating:
Suitable for: all

The Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms is the definitive account of all palms that can be grown for ornamental and economic use. Palms are often underutilized as a result of their unfamiliarity—even to tropical gardeners. To help introduce these valuable plants to a new audience, the authors have exhaustively documented every genus in the palm family.
825 species are described in detail, including cold hardiness, water needs, height, and any special requirements. Generously illustrated with more than 900 photos, including photos of several palm species that have never before appeared in a general encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms is as valuable as an identification guide as it is a practical handbook. Interesting snippets of history, ethnobotany, and biology inform the text and make this a lively catalog of these remarkable plants.

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