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 (<---check out this great photo).
Friday, 7 March 2008