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A diminutive Dypsis pachyramea in Habitat, with Dr. John Dransfield for Scale - Photo by Phil Arrowsmith
A Monster Dypsis decipiens in Habitat North of Fianarantosa, Madagascar - Photo by Phil Arrowsmith, Jeff Marcus for Scale

Dypsis is one of the the largest single genera in the palm family, with over 170 species ranging from tiny understory plants to massive emergent canopy palms and just about every size in between.

Other genera, such as Calamus and Chamadorea may be larger in terms of the number of identified species, but none are more diverse in form and habitat. Dypsis are an extraordinary phenomenon of evolutionary diversity; this "super genus" is composed of numerous former separate palm genera, including Vonitra, Chrysalidocarpus, Phloga, Neophloga, Phogella, Trichodypsis, Haplodypsis, Adelodypsis, Antogilia, and Neodypsis.

Diverse as they are, Dypsis nevertheless all have four things in common: they are all pinnate, they are all monoecious, they are all "unarmed" i.e., having no spines, and they are all endemic to Madagascar, or nearby islands.

What ever kind of habitat there is in Madagascar, the odds are, some species of Dypsis grows there. While the rainforests have a large number of species, Dypsis also grow in habitats varying from steep rocky ravines, open savanna, "thorn forest", "white sand forest" and many other habitats in both wet and dry locations. The only habitat Dypsis are not known to inhabit is truly aquatic, though some species come close.

In terms of of morphology, Dypsis species are all over the palm map. They are solitary or clustering; a few are both. Some branching species "pup" at the base (D. lutescens) while others "grow a new head" and split a trunk in two (D. baronii), and still others branch in the middle of the trunk (D. utilis). Some have simple bifid leaves a few inches (or cm) long; others have leaves twenty or more feet long. Some have enormous crownshafts (D. decipiens) while others have none.

Dypsis were catalogued and described in great detail in "The Palms of Madagascar" a seminal work by Dr. John Dransfield and Henk Beentje, first published in 1995 by Kew Botanical Gardens. New expeditions to the island keep turning up new species, or identify old ones with greater certainly. When you get Dypsis seed from Madagascar, you can end up with new, previously unknown species.

Most closely-related plant genera are distinguished from each other by the fact that Genus A and B have "missing links" between them making them separate. Or, to put it another way, certain key characteristics between one genus and another blend within the same genus, but are more or less sharply distinguished from other genera.

Dypsis are different: here is a giant genus that has a huge variation among varying groups, but no missing links. Imagine a human family with hundreds of brothers and sisters.

Like all family groupings, some members do better at surviving than others. Given Madagascar's rapid rate of deforestation, no doubt some Dypsis species have been lost and rendered unknown and unknowable to science forever. Others, however, have done much better. For example, Dypsis lutescens, the golden cane palm of the east coast of Madagascar, is nearly extinct in habitat, with only about 100 plants left. But, as anyone into palms knows, the species is grown all over the world, and its seed is sold in the nursery trade by the ton. Or, the tonne.

All of which is why palm nuts the world over get even nuttier when you mention Dypsis.

  • New photos of Dypsis, plus other species, taken on the latest expedition to Ambodiriana reserve - Manompana, Madagascar. "Photos by Olivier Reilhes"

  • New photos of Dypsis, plus other species, taken on the latest expedition to Andasibe, Maromizaha - Madagascar (2014) - East Coast of Madagascar. Photo by "Olivier Reilhes", edric.

Special note: Recently Dypsis marojejyi photos, have been reclassified as Dypsis coursii.

My Dypsis video


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