How to Grow Madagascar Palms

This succulent shrub is not a true palm

Madagascar palm planted on side of white wall with surrounding mulch

The Spruce / Danielle Moore

The Madagascar palm (Pachypodium lamerei) is not related to true palms at all. This spikey plant belongs to the Apocynaceae dogbane family within the Pachypodium genus and is a succulent shrub. Identifiable by its spear-like dark green foliage, the Madagascar palm boasts a single thick grey trunk that can also have thorns. The plant blooms each spring and into the early summer with small, 4-inch buds—the flowers are typically white.

Plant a Madagascar palm in the spring and it will grow at an annual rate of about 4 to 12 inches, though it takes over a decade to mature and possibly bloom. In its native habitat, it can grow over 20 feet tall but likely it will mature to 10 to 15 feet outdoors. The tree's spines can hurt when they puncture your skin. The sap is toxic to humans.

Common Names Madagascar palm, Madagascar cactus palm tree
Botanical Name Pachypodium lamerei
Family Apocynaceae
Plant Type  Succulent
Mature Size  12-24 ft. tall, 10-12 ft. wide
Sun Exposure  Full
Soil Type  Well-drained, chalk, loamy, sandy
Soil pH  Alkaline
Bloom Time  Summer
Flower Color  White, yellow, red, pink
Hardiness Zones  9-11 (USDA)
Native Area  Madagascar
Toxicity  Toxic to humans

Madagascar Palm Care

Native to southern Madagascar, this tropical plant is only hardy in USDA zones 9 through 11, so it's typically grown as a houseplant in most climates. It can also be overwintered indoors in cooler climates.

Your Madagascar palm needs a space 36 to 48 inches wide. Establish it in the ground or as potted plants on a patio or indoors. Grow this plant indoors year-round in cold-winter locations.

Madagascar palm with thick and thorny trunk with long leaves closeup

The Spruce / Danielle Moore

Madagascar palm with long leaf fronds surrounded by mulch

The Spruce / Danielle Moore


Grow your Madagascar palm in full sunlight and fairly warm temperatures. Indoors, set in a south or west-facing window.


Madagascar palm can adapt to a variety of well-drained soils. It will grow in the sandy soil of old dunes near the sea, in limestone, schists, etc. For best results, plant in cactus compost. Maintain a mildly acidic to mildly alkaline pH between 6.1 and 7.8.


Allow the soil to dry between waterings in spring and summer. Expect leaves to drop in winter unless specimens are grown in south Florida or indoors where plants may keep their foliage.

Whenever the surface soil becomes dry, water more. Water just to maintain dry/mesic soil moisture. Water the plant less once your Madagascar palm is established and even less in winter.


Feed the tree a general-purpose liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength at the start of spring and the beginning of summer, or a low-nitrogen liquid fertilizer every four to five weeks.

Whether grown indoors or outdoors, do not fertilize in fall or winter. Continue watering and feeding whenever new growth shows.


Pruning is not usually needed for a Madagascar palm. Even so, the plant actually has incredible regenerative properties. While this species typically grows a single trunk, sometimes it will branch after flowering or after the main stem is injured.

To maintain a smaller size or to try to induce branching, prune the tree with care by slicing the top with sharp pruning shears or a gardening knife that has been sterilized first to prevent infection.

Propagating Madagascar Palm

It's easy and quick to propagate a Madagascar palm using cuttings from stems or offsets that develop at the base of the tree. In late spring, propagate Madagascar palm by taking cuttings or offsets. To propagate with cuttings or offsets, take these steps:

  1. Take a stem cutting, or an offset snipped off the main trunk, by using a sterilized cutting tool.
  2. Allow the stem or offset to dry for a week so the end can develop a callus.
  3. Then plant the cutting or offset in a well-draining soil mix or succulent potting mix.
  4. Place the potted cutting or offset in indirect light.
  5. Water the cutting or offset only when the potting mix is completely dry. Do not overwater.

How to Grow Madagascar Palm From Seed

Growing a Madagascar palm using seeds is not as reliable or as quick of a method as propagating with cuttings or offsets. But if you have an outdoor plant, you can find seeds developing on the tree during the late summer through the fall. Take these steps to harvest and grow the seeds:

  1. Let pods dry on the plant, then collect them, and break open for seeds.
  2. Soak seeds for at least 24 hours in warm water.
  3. Sow seeds as soon as possible in the ground about 2 feet apart or indoors in a pot filled with succulent mix. Place the pot under grow lights or on a heating mat. (If you start the palm indoors and want to transplant it outdoors, this tree handles transplanting well.)
  4. Be patient, as the Madagascar palm tends to sprout quite slowly, taking anywhere from three weeks to six months.

Potting and Repotting a Madagascar Palm

Where temperatures are warmer, you can cultivate this succulent in a clay pot (not a plastic one, which can retain too much water) outside in the summer. A terracotta pot, known to efficiently wick away moisture from soil, can help if you tend to water plants too much or you're expecting heavier than normal rainfall. Selecting a container with proper drainage holes will help avoid root rot.

Fill it with well-draining cactus potting mix so the plant is kept dry. However, water the plant only when the soil is completely dry. For an indoor or outdoor potted Madagascar palm, you may need to repot it every three years because it becomes thick, tall, and top-heavy and may topple over if it is not situated in a larger and durable pot.

Always wear protective gardening gloves and clothing when handling this plant due to its sharp spines.


Since the Madagascar palm is not cold-hardy, you should move a potted plant indoors or in a protected area if you live in a zone that sees temperatures fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

This species is relatively disease resistant though it is vulnerable to aphids while flowering. Keep an eye out for whiteflies, which can be eliminated with insecticidal soaps. If the plant shows signs of a heavy pest infestation, remove the parts that are damaged.

A few fungal diseases can afflict an indoor or outdoor Madagascar palm, including leaf spot, botrytis (gray mold), leaf rust (in wet, humid conditions), powdery mildew, and southern blight (a soilborne fungus). Treat fungal issues as soon as you spot them with fungicides. Or, you can treat an indoor Madagascar palm plant with a homemade fungal solution of water and baking soda. Watch for a soilborne disease caused by lance nematodes, which can result in root rot in indoor or outdoor Madagascar palms.

How to Get a Madagascar Palm to Bloom

If the plant is happy and healthy, it will readily bloom in the summer with fragrant white, yellow, pink, or red flowers. The blooms appear at the top of the plant. However, you're more likely to see flowers on outdoor palms than on indoor palms, which may not flower often, if at all. Try encouraging blooms for an indoor Madagascar palm by giving the plant a diluted houseplant fertilizer in early spring and early summer. Help outdoor palms bloom better by pruning off damaged branches.

Common Problems With Madagascar Palm

Although a Madagascar palm is relatively easy-going, problems can occur, and the usual culprit is the amount of water the plant receives. Be on the lookout for signs of problems.

Squishy Trunk

Too much water can rot the trunk or branches, producing a soft and squishy feel to the plant. The plant may also look droopy and withered. On rare occasions of overwatering, you may find moldy soil or small mushroom growth. If you feel any softness on any part of the plant, cut back on watering. An abundance of rain can affect the palm if it's planted outdoors. If the mushy part is at the top of the plant, try pruning the trunk to eliminate the problem. If the bottom of the trunk is mushy, you can try to save the palm by cutting it all the way down.

Leaves Dropping

A Madagascar palm may not have many leaves so no doubt you'll notice if they begin to drop. This plant will shed leaves in cooler, dryer months. However, this condition could be caused by overwatering or underwatering. Or, the temperature for the plant could be too cold. If it's an indoor plant, move it to a warmer, brighter location.

Yellow Leaves

Yellowing leaves, which may also be dropping, are usually a symptom of overwatering and resulting in root rot. If you don't feel your plant is overwatered, but it is still suffering, the plant may be growing in poor-draining soil. Amend the soil for better drainage.

Disfigured Trunk

If the skin of the trunk is scarred, shriveled, or discolored in places, it may mean that too much sunlight is burning the plant. If indoors, move the plant to an area away from direct sunlight. If outdoors, the tree may need to be moved to a less sunny area.

  • How tall do Madagascar palms grow?

    When grown outside, the Madagascar palm can reach up to 24 feet high, with a spiral of leaves at the top. However, it will remain much smaller when grown indoors, topping out a just 6 feet tall or less.

  • Can Madagascar palms take full sun?

    This palm can grow in full sun, but in very hot regions, it may need some shade if temperatures soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • What is the Madagascar palm's temperature tolerance?

    This plant is not cold-hardy. It can withstand temporary dips in temperature down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It can handle very hot temperatures, but not if it's in direct sunlight for too long.

Article Sources
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  1. Madagascar Palm. Friends of the Port St. Lucie Botanical Garden.

  2. Madagascar Palm. Friends of the Port St. Lucie Botanical Garden.