Friday, 7 March 2008


While waiting for warmer days, I turn to my houseplants. And amongst them my shiny stars are the two Madagascar palms I started from seed a couple of years ago. Speechless or hysterical, or something in between, that's the reaction you get when encountering these weird succulents for the first time. Whatever the impression, it is not a plant you pass by without noticing. In nature, these plants can only be found in Africa and Madagascar (photo on the left).

I first came across this plant while browsing through seeds on eBay. As I have never seen them in garden centres before, I've decided to start my own plants from seeds, soaked 'em in hot water and they germinated within few weeks. Growing indoors, they didn't develop that fast, but since mid-spring I took them outside, placed 'em against the south wall and used only rain water for watering. They loved their new location, the warm, sunny spot and thoroughly enjoyed the rain showers. Combination of the two boosted their growth, and in my humble opinion, they just love the intense heat and light, and they have a considerably faster growth rate than when grown in colder conditions. Just some time ago I finally came across a few Pachys in one of the garden centers, in a sort of neglected shape and not really eye-catching. I couldn't resist not having another one so I decided to save one of 'em from the dull, over-watered, shady place they were stuck in. The newcomer still didn't reach the looks of my two shiny stars.

Being succulents and all, Pachys are adapted to cope with long periods of drought. That's why they tend to have very fat stems, capable of storing large quantities of water. The trunk, full of those impressive spines, needs to be handled with extreme care. The tips are clogged in a dense mass of branches with dark olive-green leaves that are glossy above and paler below. The name ‘Pachypodium’ itself means ‘thick foot’.

Pachys fall in a group of the Apocynaceae notorious for poisonous properties and for yielding potent poisons that have been used most effectively in arrow poison since ancient times. All parts of plant are poisonous if ingested. My hand learned about the spines the hard way whilst repotting, and I had a hard time getting the poisonous needle out of my bulging green thumb. Not to mention the pain and numbness it causes instantly. Most of the tips say repot the plant every three years, but I repot mine at the end of each winter and they don't seem to mind. I use the special Cactus compost which they seem to enjoy very much. They are quite easy to grow. They can grow up to a foot per year, with regular water during hot periods, and growing in a free draining soil mix. If under-watered during a warmer period, it can lead to a leaf loss, this helps the plant conserve water that might otherwise be lost through the leaves. During winter, the watering should be cut back dramatically, perhaps to once a month; the compost should become dry between watering and unless provided with lots of heat and light, Pachys will be rather dormant in winter. Being nosey and all, I never let them have the proper dormant period, or lose their foliage, so I water sparingly app. once a week but sometimes some of the leaves develop the brown spots, become yellow and drop off which is normal for the period prior to dormancy. Dormancy doesn't necessarily happen at the same time or even in the same species, as there is many different varieties of Pachys. And sometimes only the older leaves fall off while the newer ones hang on. The temperature in their habitat should never fall too low as they cannot tolerate frost. Some are known to tolerate very light frost, but since the winters here get quite bitchin' (and pardon my french) I only get to muse about how wonderful they would get to be if I could plant them outdoors, and lament about them never going to be as tall and proud as their relatives back home
(<--- span="">span="">check out this great photo).

my pachys aged 4

11 komentari:

KUHL said...


jbear817 said...

I rescued my madagascar palm from a store where it was not getting any care. It is 13 inches tall. It has doubled in size since I bought it. It took me a while to find out what it was because it did not have a nametag. What drew me to it is a crown of 6" long leaves. Your pictures surprized me because my plant has only one layer of leaves, most of which turned brown and dropped this last summer. Should my plant have many layers of leaves? It was an unusually cold summer here in Wisconsin. Should I have put it in a more sunny, protected location? Should I have watered it more? All my plants go out on my deck as soon as possible in Spring and get dappled shade since my yard is filled with old oaks. Any answers would be appreciated.

Viooltje said...

Happy to meet more Pachypodium lovers! Let me share a big comforting tip with you right at the start: the bigger of my Pachypodiums also lost most of its leaves a few weeks ago when I moved it indoors from its spring-summer sunny southern spot on my balcony where it had enjoyed all-day sun and had been watered only with rain water. The same thing happened last year when I moved it indoors, but not the years before. From my experience, I would say the reason is a sudden change of weather (huge temp. amplitudes), too much or too little water and draft of cold air. The browning of leaves tends to be perfectly normal if you intend to store your plant inside in a COOL spot without watering, and give it a chance to hibernate.
I have another few inches smaller sister plant which goes indoor in the early fall when the first temperature changes occur. It stays in a warm room, and I water it every now and then but not too often. It does not lose the foliage, perhaps only a couple of the lower ones. What happens in the spring when I bring them both back outdoors to their hot spots is - the leafy one that has been taken care of in a warm room takes a bit longer to pick up and loses a leaf here and there, while the one that was in a cold greenhouse, neglected, without water (Ok, maybe a tiny bit once a month), comes out with only one layer of leaves, the crown, but quickly picks up and grows some new foliage. After a while, the rewarding rain water and sun do the trick and they are once again at its best, getting more height and volume and more shiny foliage. I also have a few smaller ones that I have rescued from the grasp of some evil nurseries where they were completely neglected and left to suffer without any proper care and light. Most had no foliage at all, but after a short period of recovery with filtered sunlight in the shade of a tree and some rainwater, they grew the leaves back on and were then moved in a sunnier spot. In my humble opinion, they are real tough players. And perhaps the only thing that could terminally damage them would be over-watering and over-fertilizing.
I like to keep mine quite dry, facing the south wall in the summer, and quite often I let them rely on the generosity of the skies but in longer periods without rain, I water with collected rain water, as I believe that tap water is the biggest enemy of all the pot plants, particularly the sensitive, tropical ones that require more regular watering. Hope my doodling was at least of some help and comfort to you. If you have more questions, feel free to write to

Anonymous said...

My Madagascar Palm took a beating this winter (Galveston, TX Feb 2011). Although it was protected from windy blasts as it resided in a small enclosed courtyard, it was noticably affected.
At the soonest convenience, I sprayed it with a liquid copper fungicide. As soon as the weather improved, I started trimming away dead tissue.
The trunk is looking more alive (reddish gren) now than it did in February, but I think it's going to be a long slow road to full recovery. I'll definetly look into frost protection next winter.

Anonymous said...

Like most of you I stumbled upon my Mada. Palm while shopping at Lowes. The thing was on the back shelf behind other plants with a clearance tag on it for 7.00 dollars. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I brought it home. Got me a bag of cactus soil, repotted it, fed it Faffard Fertilizer/Food. With in weeks it was jumping out of that pot and I had to repot it. Now, its grown well over a foot in one season and needs repotting again. However. These things are so top heavy and put on so many pups at the base Im getting worried. I want to remove the pups like I do with Sago palms, but have no idea if this is the right way. I really want more Mada. Palms, and at the rate this thing is growing, its gonna get out of hand with in a few more seasons. Can you pop the pups off from the base of the trunk with little or no damage to the main trunk? At last count this thing has put on 8 or 9 new extensions and one has grown well over 6 inches..PLEASE ADVISE ON THIS!? Have any of you ever got babies off the trunk of your Mada. Palms? Thanks

RonnieBlack said...

Can I remove the smaller limbs/pups from my Madagascar? Its growing very well but there are a few from various sizes coming up from the bottom of the main trunk. Every where from 5 inches down to half inch size. I want to remove one of them and start another one..Can you do this like you can with sago palm pups ? or other bulb plants. Or will it harm the plant if I remove the sprouts/pups?

Anonymous said...

I got scratched very lightly across my hand by a madagascar palm. It didnt seem like much. Felt like a kitten scratch. two days later it was red and inflamed. 4 days later splotches of skin around the scratch started dying and it no longer looked like a scratch but more like a 3rd degree burn and felt like one to. After a week it still did not heal completely. it took 3 weeks for that "scratch" to heal.... wowzer i dont really love my madagascar palms anymore. there quite menacing.

Anonymous said...

Your blog sucks if no one can read it.
yellow text on a white background, really?

Ron A. mcss member said...

Yes you can remove the pups although taling a sterile sharp knife is the prefered method. After a clean cut to remove has been made let the pup dry out its wound for two days, then place in appropriate soil mix and put in sunny spot. I advise against watering the pups for at least a week.since it has to grow new roots and they start out smaller than human hair and cannot absorb much water. Lightly water it the first few months. Best time to repot pups is spring so it has a full summer to.grow and get healthy ahead. Be aware the white sap that will seep out when cut is made is poisonous and slightly acidic. Do not get it in you eyes and wash off any that gets on you skin. If you get in eyes flush and seek medical attention same as any chemical that gets in eyes. Removing pups realistically is a quick and easy procedure and with minor precautions and care should reward you with many new plants to care for.

Dona Baldwin said...

Our Madagascar Palm fell over on our porch just prior to winter storing in our basement. Getting it moved for this spring, noticed two branches were mushy at points where it struck railing during fall. The leaves on these branches are dead as well as above the injury. Can these branches be trimmed to below the injury or should I cut off the whole branch? Plant otherwise seems fine.

Mr.Ouch ! ! ! said...

You sound like you let your palm....PRICK YOU....!🤣 ha ! HA HA HA

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