| Tahina (tah-HEE-nah)
Tsingy, Madagascar. Photo by Dr. John Dransfield, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew/Palmweb.
Habitat and DistributionTahina spectabilis is Endemic to Madagascar. Found only in the
Occurs in the gently rolling hills and flatlands of the region, now dominated by anthropogenic grasslands, there is a small outcrop of 'tsingy', karst Tertiary limestone, about 250 m long, carrying a semi-natural vegetation. Tahina grows in seasonally flooded land at the foot of the limestone hill at an elevation between 10 and 20 m.
The increased frequency of fire is probably the main threat at present, as most of the former habitat has been transformed. Grazing by livestock also poses a threat to the remaining habitat and to the regeneration of this species.
Efforts are under way to conserve this species through distribution of seed and cultivation in botanic gardens. The site is not formally protected. Regular monitoring of the population is required.
Occurs in the gently rolling hills and flatlands of the region, now dominated by anthropogenic grasslands, there is a small outcrop of 'tsingy', karst Tertiary limestone, about 250 m long, carrying a semi-natural vegetation. Tahina grows in seasonally flooded land at the foot of the limestone hill at an elevation between 10 and 20 m. (Dr's Rakotoarinivo, M. & Dransfield, J.)
Its name is derived from "Tahina", a Malagasy word meaning "to be protected" or "blessed", being the given name of Anne-Tahina Metz, the daughter of its discoverer, while "spectabilis" means spectacular in Latin.
It was subsequently chosen as one of the top ten species discoveries of 2008 by the International Institute for Species Exploration.
This palm is a very rare, protected species from Madagascar. Its less than 100 known members are classified by geneticists as belonging to the palm tribe Chuniophoeniceae. Very little is known about this palm's life cycle, but specimens are the largest palm native to Madagascar, with heights of up to twenty meters and leaves up to three meters across.
Tahina spectabilis, the tahina palm, is a species of gigantic palm that is found only in the Analalava District of northwestern Madagascar. It can grow 18 m (59 ft) tall and has leaves over 5 m (16 ft) across. An individual tree was discovered when in flower in 2007; it was first described the following year as a result of photographs being sent to Kew Gardens in the United Kingdom for identification. The palm is thought to live for up to fifty years before producing an enormous inflorescence and subsequently dying. Fewer than one hundred individuals of the species are thought to exist and the International Union for Conservation of Nature has rated it as "critically endangered".
The species, which produces countless flowers and (after fruiting) dies, is sufficiently different from other known palms to justify the creation of the monotypic genus Tahina, which is now included with three other genera in the tribe Chuniophoeniceae; the other members being found in the Arabian peninsula, Thailand and China. Fewer than one hundred individuals of the species are thought to exist.
The palm is the largest of the 170 palm species native to Madagascar, having a trunk up to 18 m (59 ft) tall and leaves which are over 5 m (16 ft) in diameter.
Tahina spectabilis normally appears much like other palms. However, when it flowers, which John Dransfield of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew estimates as occurring after every 30 to 50 years, the stem tip grows a large inflorescence that bursts into branches of hundreds of flowers. The drain on nutrients this display entails results in the death of the organism within several months.
A gigantic new species and genus of palm, This plant flowers itself to death, producing a huge, spectacular terminal inflorescence with countless flowers. After fruiting, the palm dies and collapses. The new genus is unrelated to any other of the 170 plus palms of Madagascar and is most closely related to 3 genera: one each in Afghanistan and neighboring parts of Asia; south Thailand; and Vietnam and southern China. Editing by edric.
Propagation of this palm has been achieved by seed-sowing at Kew. Seeds were sown during February, having been soaked in water for 24 hours prior to sowing. The seed compost included Seramis (clay granules) and perlite. Two months after sowing, 80% of the seeds had germinated. The seedlings were potted up individually into 'long tom' pots. After three years (in early 2011), the plants were still growing well. (Dr's Rakotoarinivo, M. & Dransfield, J.)
Comments and Curiosities
- Madagascar – A Fragile and Threatened Land A must see clip.
Known only from a single site where the area of occupancy and extent of occurrence are estimated to be well less than 4 km² (even less than 1 km²) and is threatened by increased fire frequency and grazing which may reduce the quality of the habitat for the population and any regeneration. About 30 mature trees have been counted at this site. The species is listed as Critically Endangered.
"Tahina – Malagasy for ‘blessed’ or ‘to be protected;’ also one of the given names of Anne-Tahina Metz, the daughter of the discoverer of the palm" and spectabilis from Latin, meaning notable or showy.
Large enough to be visible in satellite imagery, Tahina spectabilis, commonly known as dimaka, is an enormous 'self-destructive' palm that remained undetected by science until 2007. Its extraordinary appearance and genetic evidence indicate that this palm belongs in a genus of its own within a group of palms originally thought to be restricted to Asia. Efforts are now underway to conserve this species through distribution of seed and cultivation in botanic gardens.
Tahina spectabilis has a huge trunk, with a swollen base, and a 4 to 10 m high crown comprising about twelve fan-shaped leaves up to 5 m in diameter. Dead leaves are retained below the new growth but eventually fall under their own weight as the tree gets larger. The trunk is covered by ring scars left by the fallen leaves.
When flowering commences, the tip of the stem extends above the dense green crown, expanding into an impressive pyramidal, candelabra-like inflorescence (around 4-5 m in height) which at maturity explodes with a multitude of tiny yellow flowers.
As with all of Madagascar's wildlife the biggest threat to this palm is likely to be habitat loss. It is particularly vulnerable because it has a very small population size (estimated at 90 individuals) and a restricted range, meaning that even small-scale impacts could be potentially devastating. Since the 1970s, approximately one-third of Madagascar's primary vegetation has disappeared, mainly as a direct result of fires, logging and clearance of land for agriculture. (Dr's Rakotoarinivo, M. & Dransfield, J.)
Undoubtedly the most exciting discovery in the world of palms in the new millennium, this magnificent, massive fan palm was found by accident by cashew-grower Xavier Metz and his family in a single, small area in the northeast of Madagascar, where it grows in low, seasonally dry forest or scrubland that may be flooded during the rainy season, at the foot of heavily eroded limestone hills. It represents not only just a new species but an entirely new genus in the palm family. Some amazing background to its discovery can be read up in several threads on the internet forum of the International Palm Society at http://palmtalk.org/ Tahina grows a massive, solitary trunk, which holds a giant crown of enormous, slightly costapalmate and completely circular fan leaves with numerous stiff segments. The petioles are whitish towards the base. It has already made the rounds through the mainstream press as the 'exploding' or 'self-destructing' palm, a somewhat sensationalist allusion to the fact that it flowers only once in its life, with a totally spectacular, giant, whitish inflorescence that forms from the center of the crown. After the fruits have matured and have been harvested by lemurs, who thereby distribute the seeds, the palm is spent, the massive structure slowly collapses and the palm dies. This flowering habit is not unique in Tahina, in fact many palms exhibit what botanists refer to as a hapaxanthic mode of growth, a few examples being Corypha, Metroxylon and many climbing palms. Really noteworthy, however, are its closest relatives in the palm family and their distribution. It is most closely allied to Kerriodoxa from Thailand and Chuniophoenix from China, easily seen in the seeds alone, and one can speculate that Tahina is a relic on Madagascar, sharing a common ancestor with the above from the time when the Indian subcontinent was only just beginning its northward voyage and separating off from Madagascar, some 70 to 50 million years ago. In cultivation it would be a breathtaking ornamental for the large garden or park, and would most likely do best in the dry tropics. It could doubtlessly be induced to grow in many other tropical and frost free subtropical areas. It seems that growth is rather fast, but it is entirely unclear how long a plant will take to flower. Much like Kerriodoxa, the seed produces a moderately long sinker to anchor the base of the plant well in the soil. Deep pots would be recommended. With a total known population in its native habitat of just 92 individuals and perhaps 100 small seedlings, the palm is very rare and efforts with the aim to protect its natural habitat have been initiated and are now managed by Xavier Metz and John Dransfield. The distribution of seeds appears to be the best way to establish some cultivated populations for ex-situ conservation and at the same time generate funds for the nearby villagers who „own and manage" the habitat of the palm under a relatively new law in Madagascar. The villagers are now very aware of the uniqueness of the palm and understand that flowering is probably a rather rare event. Any profits resulting from the sale of the seeds distributed under this conservation program will go to their community. The funds are destined towards village development, such as a pump for the village well, and aim at keeping cattle and fire away from the palms. The approach is that when the villagers can see that there is some financial return from the palm, they will likely want to preserve it and its habitat. Rare Palm Seeds.com
The photo at the bottom, is of roughly two year old plants brought in from Hawaii in the summer of 2008. Ten plants were purchased. Of the ten nine are still alive and well. Four of the plants have been exposed to temps at or around freezing. This was unintentional but good for the sake of observation. They were affected by the exposure. I will post photos of those plants when next I am at their location. The plants in the photo from Vero were never exposed to temps less than 40F.. They have been grown in deep shade. If the person that posted the progression series of photos on this page could give a location and any relevant temperature info that might help establish some insight as to the tolerance of this relatively unknown palm.
This is a tillering palm, it exhibits saxophone style root growth (it has a heel), keep top third of heel above soil elevation!
- Glossary of Palm Terms
- MODERN BOTANICAL LATIN
- "Just To Be Clear"
- Madagascar – A Fragile and Threatened Land
- THE SAXOPHONE STYLE ROOT GROWTH (HEEL)
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).
Rakotoarinivo, M. & Dransfield, J. 2012. Tahina spectabilis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012
Many Special Thanks to Ed Vaile for his long hours of tireless editing and numerous contributions.