Dypsis decipiens

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Dypsis (DIP-sis)
decipiens (deh-sip-EE-enz)
Itremo Commune, Ambatofinandrahana District, Amoron'i Mania Region, Fianarantsoa Province, Madagascar. Photo by Dr. Mijoro Rakotoarinivo/Kew.
Scientific Classification
Genus: Dypsis (DIP-sis)
decipiens (deh-sip-EE-enz)
None set.
Native Continent
Habit: May cluster.
Leaf type: Pinnate
Survivability index
Common names
Betefaka, Manambe (Imerina), Sihara leibe (Betsileo).

Habitat and Distribution

Endemic to Central Madagascar, between Ankazobe and Fianarantsoa.
Habitat, North of Fianarantosa.
Plateau forest (remnants), either near streams or in rocky sites; alt. 1400-2000 m.


This imposing palm has such a presence, that a habitat photo commanded the back cover for "The Palms of Madagascar" by John Dransfield and Henk Beentje. Because this palm has been in cultivation for some time now, several forms have been observed ranging from slighly to very plumose irregular pinnae, always tough and rigid to the touch. Several color variations have also been grown ranging from all green to reddish, with many different hues in the developing spear. It can be solitary or frequently double in its native environment. However, in cultivation it has been seen with as many as seven stems before trunking. As more and more palms spread through cultivated gardens from many different and diverse seed sources, more palms, that appear to be related or in this complex, are appearing. Including a strikingly beautiful blue form, that so far has demonstrated a peculiarity to remain solitary. As one of the first palms from Madagascar to be introduced, and because of its reputation as one of the most cold hardy pinnate palms in the world, many mature specimens are now growing outside of its natural habitat despite its slow growth rate.

Imposing and handsome, often clustering palm, sometimes appearing solitary, but more often doubling or tripling, with younger shoots at the base. TRUNK 6-20 m high, ventricose; 50-70 cm in diam., at the very base 30-40 cm in diam., near the crown 25-30 cm diam.; internodes 4-5 cm long, grey, more distally shiny green, nodal scars about 2 cm high, grey-brown; crownshaft pale waxy-grey-green. LEAVES 9-12 in the crown, spirally inserted, porrect; sheath c. 70 cm long, pale green with waxy white bloom, adaxially dark chestnut red-brown, one third to half open in the oldest leaf, with brown ligules where the sheath margin makes a right angle towards the base of the petiole, with waxy scales or glabrous; petiole 10-25 cm long, proximally about 11 x 5 cm, distally about 7 x 5 cm in diam., deeply channelled with sharp edges; rachis about 2.2 m long, channelled proximally, in mid-leaf 3-4 x 2-2.7 cm in diam. and keeled, with whitish tomentum or glabrous; leaflets about 90 on each side of the rachis, in groups of 2-6, fanned within the groups giving the leaf a plumose appearance (though almost in one plane in very young trees), stiff with only the apices bending over, the proximal 70-94 x 1.3-1.7 cm (the most proximal often very long, narrow and pendulous), median 73-101 x 2.8-4.3 cm, distal 26-42 x 0.8-1.2 cm, in mid-leaf interval < 0.5-1 cm, the interval between the groups 3-8 cm, main veins 1, the other veins faint, apices attenuate and unequally bifid, with sparse large (1 cm) red-brown ramenta on the proximal midrib, and many small scattered reddish scales on the fainter veins. INFLORESCENCE infrafoliar, strongly curved, branched to 2 orders, about 110 x 65 cm; peduncle 15-17 cm long, 9-10 x 4-6 cm in diam.; prophyll 39-41 x about 10 cm, borne at 6-6.5 cm above the base of the peduncle, split abaxially, but distally with a small horizontal adaxial split, dark brown, ± glabrous; peduncular bract insertion point uncertain, quickly deciduous, 42- 58 x 12-16 cm, opening over its whole length except for the beaked apex 5-6 cm long, pale waxy brown with scattered scales; rachis about 60 cm, greyish white, glabrous, with about 13 branched and 18 unbranched first order branches, the more proximal of these with flattened bases to 4.7 x 1.3 cm in diam.; rachis bracts about 9 mm high; rachillae 7-40 cm long, 3.5-7 mm in diam., with distant triads in pits; rachilla bracts 2.5-3 x 3.5 mm, acute. STAMINATE FLOWERS with sepals 2-4 x 1.8-2.5 mm, concave, keeled, gibbous, with membranous margins, apiculate; petals connate for 1.3-1.6 mm, the free lobes 3.8-5.6 x 2.3-3.7 mm, ovate, acute to obtuse; stamens 6, in 1 series, the filaments (2-) 3.2-5 mm long and connate at base for 0.3 mm, anthers 2.3-2.8 x 0.8-1.4 mm, dorsifixed, versatile; pistillode columnar, 1.9-2.7 x 0.7-1.5 mm. PISTILLATE FLOWERS with sepals 5.1-6.3 x 3.5-5 mm, concave, orbicular, with small hooded tip; petals resembling the sepals, 4-5.3 x 3- 3.8 mm, concave, ovate, with small apiculus, staminodes 0.3-0.5 mm, dentiform; ovary 3.5-4.3 mm high, 1.5-2 mm in diam. FRUIT broadly ellipsoid or almost globose, colour unknown, 22-25 x 20-22 mm; endocarp very fibrous with long anastomosing fibres. SEED 10-20 x 11.5-18mm, with rounded base and apex; endosperm homogeneous. (J. Dransfield and H. Beentje. 1995)/Palmweb.

Beccari established the new genus Macrophloga based on two different taxa: his own Chrysalidocarpus decipiens, and Neodypsis basilongus based on a Perrier specimen (no. 12088) with seed showing ruminate endosperm. True Chrysalidocarpus decipiens has homogeneous endosperm. The combination Neodypsis decipiens (Becc.) Jumelle & Perrier existed only in Beccari's imagination; Jumelle & Perrier (1913) mentioned the possibility but specifically refrained from making it. HB has seen bees visiting the flowers of a cultivated specimen in Antananarivo. (J. Dransfield and H. Beentje. 1995)/Palmweb.


D. decipiens may be the most cold hardy palm of Madagascar. There are reports of a young plant surviving 22 degrees F/-5.55 C unscathed. It is also tolerant, and probably prefers full hot sun with cool nights. Because it grows in an open well drained soil, in an area with an extended dry season, a constantly wet climate does not appear to be to its liking, except in areas where the soil is extremely well draining. Young plants seem especially susceptible to rotting in a potting mix and climate that does not allow periods of drying.

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Comments and Curiosities

One of the most imposing palms of the island, but that may have something to do with its occurring in the austere surroundings of the Central Plateau, where it stands out dramatically. This makes a wonderful ornamental, able to withstand some cold (though not freezing) and periods of dry weather. The species name means 'deceiving', indicating that it closely resembles something else; in this case, it is a particularly inappropriate name! (J. Dransfield and H. Beentje. 1995)/Palmweb.

Conservation: Endangered. The number of individuals in the wild is estimated at around two hundred; their distribution area is prone to destruction and fire. This species is listed in CITES Annexe II. (J. Dransfield and H. Beentje. 1995).

Uses: Good palm heart; leaves used for erosion control (Betsileo).

This palm is one of a few palms of Madagascar which exhibits a branching habit that may be unique to the palms of Madagascar. The stem splits below ground as a younger plant by extending a spear that apppears split down the middle. Over a period of years, this then develops into two separate trunks. If anyone knows of another palm, from outside Madagascar, that exhibits this same habit (exclusively below ground), we would love to be informed.

This large and truly spectacular palm comes from the dry highlands of central Madagacar. With its leathery, blue green, plumose leaves; tall, pale crownshaft; and smooth, cigar-shaped, gray trunk, it is reminiscent of a Royal Palm (Roystonea). Dypsis decipiens grows to altitudes of 2000 m (6700 ft.) and is one of the most cold tolerant palms from Madagascar. It requires a temperate or subtropical climate and will survive quite heavy frosts. (RPS.com)

This is a tillering palm, it exhibits saxophone style root growth (it has a heel), keep top third of heel above soil elevation!

External Links


Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.

Special thanks to Geoff Stein, (Palmbob) for his hundreds of photos.

Special thanks to Palmweb.org, Dr. John Dransfield, Dr. Bill Baker & team, for their volumes of information and photos.

Glossary of Palm Terms; Based on the glossary in Dransfield, J., N.W. Uhl, C.B. Asmussen-Lange, W.J. Baker, M.M. Harley & C.E. Lewis. 2008. Genera Palmarum - Evolution and Classification of the Palms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. All images copyright of the artists and photographers (see images for credits).

Dransfield, J. & Beentje, H. 1995. The Palms of Madagascar. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and The International Palm Society.
Many Special Thanks to Ed Vaile for his long hours of tireless editing and numerous contributions.

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