How to Grow Madagascar Palms

This succulent shrub is not a true palm

Madagascar cactus palm tree (Pachypodium lamerei) in a pot

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The Madagascar palm (Pachypodium lamerei) is not related to true palms at all. This unusual plant is actually a succulent shrub in the Apocynaceae dogbane family within the Pachypodium genus.

Native to southern Madagascar, this tropical species is a tender perennial hardy to USDA Zones 9 through 11. Often grown as a houseplant, it can also be overwintered indoors in cooler climates.

On a single thick grey trunk, the stems are thick and thorny. The leathery, deciduous foliage is blue-green to dark green. Terminal clusters of yellow-throated white flowers bloom as soon as late spring to early summer. Petals spiraling, each flower measures about four inches across. The aromatic flowers are usually white, but can sometimes be yellow, pink, or red.

When established outdoors in the ground, the plant's slender, straight spindly trunk can reach up to 24 feet high with spirally arranged leaves at the top. When grown indoors, it remains much smaller, at most six feet tall. This shrub rarely produces branches.

Madagascar palm matures within 10 or more years' time. Large plants tend to bloom in summer, while smaller, younger plants rarely bloom.

Botanical Name Pachypodium lamerei
Common Names Madagascar Palm, Madagascar Cactus Palm Tree, Pachypodium Species, Club Foot
Plant Type  Deciduous succulent (not related to true palms)
Mature Size  12 to 24 ft. tall, 10 to 12 ft. wide
Sun Exposure  Full sun
Soil Type  Cactus compost, well-drained chalk, loam, or sand
Soil pH  Alkaline
Bloom Time  Summer
Flower Color  White, yellow, red, or pink
Hardiness Zones  9-11, USDA
Native Area  Southern Madagascar
Toxicity  Poisonous to humans and pets

Madagascar Palm Care

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 mild-winter locations.

Where temperatures are warmer, cultivate in a clay pot (not a plastic one) outside in summer. Selecting a container with proper drainage holes will help avoid root rot.

Light

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

Soil

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.

Water

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 less once your Madagascar palm is established and even less in winter.

Fertilizer

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.

With proper care, Madagascar palms will grow around 12 inches per year when happily and healthily.

Is the Madagascar Palm toxic?

All parts of the plants are toxic for humans and pets.

Symptoms of poisoning

The Madagascar palm has a highly toxic sap that has actually been used to create poisonous arrows since ancient times in Africa. If ingested by pets, the glycosides can cause gastric upsets, inappetence, heart arrhythmias and lethargy. If ingested in large enough quantities it can be fatal.

In humans, symptoms can include finger swelling and severe pain.

Pruning

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. Slice the top with a sterile knife, saw, or shears to prevent infection.

Propagating Madagascar Palm

In late spring, propagate by seed at 66-75°F (19-24°C) or take stem-tip cuttings. Soak seeds for at least 24 hours in warm water. Be patient, as the Madagascar palm tends to sprout quite slowly, anywhere from three weeks to six months.

For quicker results, break off a piece of new shoots above the base. Allow shoots to dry for a week. Then plant in a well-draining soil mix.

Common Pests/Diseases

This species is relatively disease resistant though it is vulnerable to aphids while flowering.

Keep an eye out for cassava whitefly and lance nematode. If it does show signs of pest infestation or disease, remove the parts that are damaged.