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Pachypodium lamerei Drake 1899
pronounced: pack-ee-PO-dee-um la-MER-ee-eye
(Apocynaceae – the oleander family)
common name: Madagascar Palm
This is a genus of succulent spine-bearing trees and shrubs, native to Africa. The pachycaule∗ trunk is an enlarged trunk that stores water so as to survive seasonal drought or intermittent periods of root desiccation in exposed, dry, and rocky situations. Although there is great variation in the habit of the plant body in this genus, all species exhibit this enlargement. Variation in habit can range from dwarf flattened plants to bottle-shaped shrubs to dendroid-shaped† trees.
The second general characteristic of the members of the genus is that they all have spines. These spines come clustered either in pairs or in triplets, with these clusters often arranged in rings or whorls around the trunk. The spines emerge with leaves, and, like leaves, grow for a short period before stopping growth and hardening. Spines do not regenerate, so weathering and abrasion can wear away all but the youngest spines from older specimens, leaving smooth trunks and branches.
Pachypodium lamerei is a weird-looking plant with a thick, spiny grey trunk that will reach up to 4 or 5 m in nature or in the garden. It is not often branched, and the base is spindle-shaped. The trunk (which can grow to about 30 cm in diameter) is covered with 2 – 6 cm spines, and the simple green lanceolate leaves are arranged spirally, mostly just at the top of the plant. It is a native of southern Madagascar. It bears large, fragrant flowers, 5 – 8 cm in diameter, white with a yellow centre. Only mature plants, those approaching 2 m in height, will produce flowers, in spring and summer, then on and off throughout all the warm months. It produces seed pods that look rather like cucumbers. These eventually open along the seam, revealing great numbers of white-winged seeds.
The plant is often grown indoors. Although fairly slow-growing, in about 10 years it will generally outgrow its location, and require a ‘pruning’. Although branching is usually a response to natural injury, or something that happens in older specimens, branching can be stimulated by cutting off the top of the plant. It has amazing regenerative properties. It is best to re-pot the plant about every 3 years – this can be a tricky job, given the spines!
The plant can be propagated from seed, or by the removal of small offshoots that grow at the base of the old plant. These shoots should be allowed to dry for about a week before potting up.
The plants photographed are in the garden of the furthest house in the Dunoon development in Picnic Bay.
∗ Pachycaules are plants with disproportionately thick stems for their length
† tree-like, branching like a tree – like some corals
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2007, 2009
Page last updated 9th January 2017