Dypsis ovobontsira

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Dypsis (DIP-sis)
P1010085 Dypsis ovobontsira.JPG
Habitat, Madagascar. Photo: Phil Arrowsmith.
Scientific Classification
Genus: Dypsis (DIP-sis)
None set.
Native Continent
Habit: Solitary
Leaf type: Pinnate
Survivability index
Common names
Ovobontsira (Betsimisaraka).

Habitat and Distribution

Endemic to Madagascar. Only known from the Mananara Biosphere Reserve. Moist forest,
Habitat, Madagascar. Photo: Phil Arrowsmith.
steep mid slope, ultramafic soils with deep humus layer; at about 265 m.

Dypsis ovobontsira is found in dense diminishing fragmented forest. 10-15 years ago the reserve where this palm is located was mostly bush., and now there is perhaps only 7 or 8 individuals left. So it is likely (and unfortunate) that this palm has not yet made it into cultivation.

It is known only from this single locality in the protected area of Mananara-Nord at an elevation of 500 meters.


As the photos above illustrate, Dypsis ovobontsira is a unique palm, and of a magnificant form with color. The trunk appears to hold a shiny black color that sets it apart. Other photos have shown a green ringed trunk, so different exposures may yield a different look. And the form and coloration of the crownshaft, along with distinctive petioles, make this a fairly easy palm to differentiate. But because it's a Dypsis, there must be some controversy. :)

Another palm in the trade has mistakenly acquired the name D. ovobontsira. This palm also known as the Dark (or Red) Mealy Bug, is also a beautiful palm, but most have agreed this is not the real D. ovobontsira pictured at the top of this page. Notice the lack of much of a petiole on the Dark Mealy Bug in the photo to the right as opposed to the very long petioles on the D. ovobontsira above.

To further confuse matters is the possiblity of descriptive errors in the Palms of Madagascar, possibly resulting from incorrect or incomplete herbarium specimens at the time of publication. In any case, those who saw this palm in Madagascar along with Dr. John Dransfield identified it as D. aff. ovobontsira. So while not an official "done deal," the best minds appear to think this is what will be the real D. ovobontsira.

As with many of these Dypsis, the true identity of this palm appears to be getting less certain instead of more (Nov, 2014). It is no longer certain that the above featured photos are the real deal. There is apparently more work to be done before any positive identifications can be made. Stay tuned.

In Madagascar there is sometimes an overlap between the scientific and local names. (See 'Curiosities' below) This is probably why there are several palms that end up in the trade with the same name.

Solitary palm. TRUNK to 8-10 m high, 13 cm in diam., near the crown 9 cm in diam.; internodes 14 cm, near the crown 2-2.5 cm; wood pink, with dense fibre-layer below bark. LEAVES spiral, 6, arching; sheath about 62 cm, at crown 14 cm. in diam., green with dense brown and white scales; petiole about 47 cm, green with dense white scales, proximally 6 x 5 cm, distally 5 x 4.5 cm, channelled with sharp edges; rachis 2.5-2.6 m, in midleaf 2.5 x 2.3 cm, green, waxy with sparse scattered scales; pinnae 68-69 on each side of the rachis, very regular, stiff, in 1 plane, the proximal 68-71 x 3.3-4.2 cm (sometimes with long pendulous reins), median 86-90 x 4.6-5.2 cm, dark green, glabrous. INFLORESCENCE interfoliar, arching with spreading rachillae, 170 x 90 cm, branched to 3 orders; peduncle 79 x 7 x 2 cm proximally, distally 7 x 4 cm; prophyll borne at 34 cm above the base of the peduncle, 56 cm x 14 cm, split very much on 1 side; peduncular bract deciduous, borne at 53 cm above the base of the peduncle; rachis with 22 branched and 19 unbranched first order branches, these proximally flattened, 4 x 1.7 cm; rachillae 10-18.5 cm, about 6 mm across. FLOWERS unknown. FRUIT green, 15-17 x 13-15 mm when fresh, 10 x 7 mm when dried. SEED 13-15 x 11-13 mm, rounded at the apex, pointed at the base, broader than wide, with sub-basal depression; endosperm slightly ruminate. (J. Dransfield and H. Beentje. 1995)/Palmweb. Editing by edric.

In its group of large palms with regular leaflets and ruminate endosperm distinct by the interfoliar inflorescence with its long peduncle and bracts, the very hairy leaf sheath, and the spirally inserted leaves. It does not really resemble any other species closely. (J. Dransfield and H. Beentje. 1995)/Palmweb.


Since this palm may not yet be in cultivation, any cultural information would be purely conjecture, but probably along the same lines as other larger forest Dypsis.

Comments and Curiosities

In the Malagasy language Ovobontsira means mongoose palm. Because of other references to palm hearts in Malagasy palm names, one collector infered at first thought that this was a reference to to the palm heart tasting like mongoose to the locals. :) But more than likely the name originates from the habit of the mongoose making homes in the old palm trunks lying on the ground. In the local language, "hovotra" means palm or palm heart, and “vontsira” is the name for mongoose. So, ovobontsira is mongoose palm or mongoose palm heart. Another possible translation could be that when these palms are cut down and lay rotting on the ground, there is a type of white grub/worm that flourish inside the trunks that the mongoose love to eat. So the local Malagasy people often see mongoose digging inside these fallen trunks. So whatever the reason, mongoose are often associated with this species - hence the name "Ovobontsira."

Below is a photo of the ringed tailed mongoose, which is more than likely the species of mongoose that the palm was named after.

This is a beautiful palm of restricted distribution. The name is taken from the Betsimisaraka name for this species.

Conservation: Critical. Only known from a single site, where less than ten individuals are known. (J. Dransfield and H. Beentje. 1995)/Palmweb.

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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