Saturday, September 8, 2007

Madagascar Palm: Patio Pal

Pachypodium lamerei


When I attended the Desert Landscaper Certification Course at the Desert Botanical Garden, our classroom was located right in the Garden. Outside on the patio was a 12 ft. tall Pachypodium lamerei, or Madagascar Palm. It was a beautiful specimen, and our instructor told us it was over 20 years old. Despite its common name and its palm-like foliage, it is not a palm at all, but part of the Plumeria family.

When I had a chance to pick up a nice sized one for my own patio, I purchased it and it’s been on my patio ever since. My P. lamerei keeps its leaves year round. As long as it has leaves, it needs water, but not often. I water mine about every nine days in summer, and I never fertilize it. This plant needs some sun and frost protection in Phoenix, so it’s best to keep it in a container on the patio or in the house if there is enough light. I did bring it in during our hard freeze last winter, but other than that, it lives outside.

The specimen at the Garden blooms occasionally. It has large white flowers that have a nice fragrance. The P. lamerei will not flower until it reaches at least six feet tall. Even at that height, it is not common to see flowers, and it will not bloom at all if grown inside. In its native Madagascar, it produces huge numbers of flowers.

This plant’s trunk is loaded with spines, which makes it hard to pot, and it does need repotting every few years as it grows. Although advertised as a fast grower, I don’t find that to be true. My plant has grown all of six inches in three years. Maybe it is putting all its energy into producing year-round foliage!

The Madagascar Palm is a popular succulent around the world, and is readily available at nurseries. I think every patio should have one.

51 comments:

Michelle said...

I love this!! :)

Anonymous said...

I have two out on my porch and I love them!

Anonymous said...

I'm in Phoenix, too. Please, tell me how much water you give them during "normal" winter temps, Dec thru Feb while they are outdoors. I am very afraid to water them for fear of rot; but, I don't want to force them into dormancy by withholding all water, either.

No Rain said...

Hi anonymous,
Madagascar Palm naturally goes into dormancy in winter--if the leaves fall off that is normal. If not, then that's normal too, depending on temperatures, light, etc. At any rate, their growth slows with cooler weather, so overwatering will rot the plant. Keep it on the dry side for the winter months, but don't completely withhold water. Use a moisture gauge. I water mine about once a month or less in winter. It is important though, to protect it if the temperatures get near freezing. This is a tropical plant and it can't take frost. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I have a Madagascar Palm on an east facing, covered patio. Plus we had quite a cold snap this winter. I covered the plant, but left it outside in a tall pot.

On average I've watered it once every ten days.
The soil was dry 3 inches below the soil surface the last time I watered it.

But, right now many leaves are wilting and falling limp. They also have brown spots on them.

Too much water? Not enough sun? too cold? Should I trim the wilting leaves?

I love the plant. Please help.

No Rain said...

Hi anonymous,
Are you in the Phoenix area? Assuming that is the case, an east patio exposure is a good spot and it's where mine is located until the hottest part of the summer. I then move it to where it faces north on the patio. At this time of year, leaf drop or drying is normal. Rather than trimming, just snap off the ones that don't look good, starting at the bottom row of leaves. If the pot is large, once a month watering in Dec. and Jan. should be enough unless we have an early hot spell. Under watering will not hurt this plant, but over watering will. Some water is necessary as long as it keeps the leaves, but in winter months, very little water is necessary. I use a moisture meter ($14.95 at Home Depot) and water only when almost dry. It absolutely will not take wet soil, especially in winter. If the plant loses its leaves, it just means it is in dormancy for the winter. When the weather warms, it will produce new leaves very quickly. It is semi tender in Phoenix, so some frost protection is necessary, but plants in containers usually weather the cold unless we get a hard freeze. If the trunk starts to get soft and limp, then it is probably rotting from over watering. No hope of recovery if rotting is there.
Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. Taking care of this plant was kind of a mystery until now.

Like I said, I love the plant and love the fact that it looks like it's right out of a Dr. Seuss book. We've affectionately named it "The Lorax".

Here's hoping The Lorax lives a long life.

Cheers!

Anonymous said...

My Pachypodium lamerei was caught in a freeze before I could rescue it. The leaves have turned dark and now the top 4 inches appear to be going soft and withering. Is there anything I can do or is it hopeless? Would cutting the top off allow it to sprout from the healthy tissue?

No Rain said...

anonymous,
If the top has been frozen and it's mushy, it is a goner. If you are sure the top four inches are soft, leaving it may result in some type of internal rot that may travel downward. You could try cutting off the top to see if it sprouts a new stem from the bottom, but I've not heard of this happening. There is no way that I've heard of that a new top will grow from the cut end. I would just buy another one and be done with it.

Anonymous said...

I live in NC. Can I leave the madagascar out on my sunny deck in the summer even in the rain? Or do I need to move it out of the rain? I'm just trying to figure out if it can stay outside like my other houseplants in the summer? I found two of these plants about 4 feet tall when someone moved and left them behind.

No Rain said...

anonymous,
Madagascar has very low water requirements and the soil should dry out between waterings. So, if the plant will be getting regular rain, it will probably be over watered, which is a sure death after awhile. I would move it to where only you water it--no rain-- and water infrequently. Wait till the soil is dry--not just on the surface, but more deeply, then water thoroughly. Wait until it dries again. A moisture meter (about $14 at Home Depot) would be the best way to gauge soil moisture.
If your two plants are 4 feet tall you have some nice specimens. Remember, over watering is bad, as is frost in winter.

Julie said...

I found your lamerai and your saunderaii!!! Nice!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Firstly thanks for sharing the information on the Mdagascar Palm. I just purchased one but had planned to plant in the ground, (until I reda your blog), is this still possible? I thought I saw it in the ground at the Boyce Thompson Arboratum, am I mistaken?
Andy

Aiyana said...

Anonymous,
I'm not sure about the palm at BTA, but the one I'm familiar with at DBG is potted. You don't say where you live. If you live in a tropical climate, you could probably plant it in the ground. It just can't take frost, so if you get any at all, it's best in a pot so it can be put where it's protected.
Aiyana

Anonymous said...

My plant has grown a couple new "palms" adjacent to the existing three. Can they be "separated" and transplanted into another pot? One new growth is about 6" tall and has sprouted in the middle of the other 3. When I purchased it, the three were already in the pot. The two new sprouts are RIGHT NEXT TO the others. Please advise. Thx!

Aiyana said...

anonymous,
Sorry for the really delayed response! I published your message and then erased it, and promptly forgot to respond. Sorry. The 'pups' can be separated and repotted. Try to keep as much of the root when cutting the pup from the mother plant. Let dry for a week, then repot. Some will take, others won't. It's hit and miss, but you'll get a thriving plant sooner or later. When cutting off the pups, be careful not to damage the main plant's root system.
Aiyana

Anonymous said...

I have 2 Madagascar Palms that I bought in pots 2 years ago.
I live in the high desert ( 7000" ) outside of Santa Fe so we have very cold frosty/ snowy winters.However, our summers range is in the 80's - 90's range so I was wondering if I could put it outside at that time on either one of our 2 covered portals. One gets late morning/some afternoon sun and faces S.E. The other faces S.W - W and gets afternoon/evening sun during the summer.Any ideas anyone?
Thanks you.

Aiyana said...

Outside on the patio would be just fine. I would just make sure it does not get intense sun since you have not kept it outside. It needs to acclimate to direct sun. A covered patio is good, so either location should work. It may need more moisture if it is outside, so check the soil--but don't overwater. That's the sure death of your plants.
Aiyana

Anonymous said...

I have a Madigascar Palm about 5 feet high. It has always been indoors and is by large windows where it gets lots of sun.
However, every summer it grows new leaves which start out fine but once they get larger they fold in half and curve downward at the ends.
Am I watering too much? or too little? too much sun? too little sun?
As I mentioned, the leaves literally fold themselves in half down the middle.
Don't know what to do.
Thanks

Aiyana said...

Anonymous,
It may be that the plant is getting too little light and trying to get more. I would make sure it gets enough light as possible indoors, near a window with sun a good part of the day. If this is impossible, then you may want to revert to a grow light. Not knowing your climate, I wouldn't recommend that you put it outside. If you chose to do that, then you would have to gradually acclimate it. Also, too much water will eventually kill a Madagascar palm. Make sure it's not over or underwatered.
Aiyana

Anonymous said...

Thanks
I live in Canada.
It gets plenty of sunlight as it sits inbetween a south and west facing set of windows.
I may be watering too much, I bought a moisture meter and will wait till it shows totally dry deep down by the roots.
Hopefully that works.

Anka Norway said...

Hi you!

I'm from norway and I have a p. lamerei wich I LOVE! It's about 5 years old and is about a half meter tall. It is a mother with 4 babies attatched to it. It is placed in the window in the living room so it could get lots of light. I water it about once a week in summer and once every other week in winter, but last winter it dormated with almost no water. When the summer came the leaves started to grow, and I gave it more water. After a while I gave it a bit fertilizer. Suddenly the leaves would'nt grow up anymore. They get brown and fall off/chrushes. This is about 3 month's ago now and it is still the same. Now the winter is coming and new dormancy. What do I do? Is the babies the problem? Too chill in the window(15-20c)? Fertilizer I gave once? Re-pot it before winther(not so smart?)? It has some roots that don't go all the way down to the soil.. The palm is not soft, but I'm so scared this would happen.

Sorry my language skills.. Hope so very much for advice

Love from Anka in Norway

Aiyana said...

Hi Anka,
The offsets shouldn't cause any problems, and fertilizer is fine as long as it's not too strong of a dose. Your watering schedule sounds good--once in dormancy, you really don't need to water every other week. If it went last year with practically no water for the winter, then I'd repeat that practice. What size pot is it in? If it is 5 years old, have you repotted it before? It may need repotting just for the new soil, but do not do that until just before the leaves normally start in spring. Spring is a traditional time to repot. Use a potting mix for succulents comprised of 1 part high quality potting mix and 1 to 2parts grit/pumice. Roots tend to be shallow so a deep pot isn't required. The diameter of the pot should be approximately 1/3 the height of the plant, measured from soil line to top of crown. Sometimes it takes a year to know if the plant is just dormant or dying, so don't give up on it just because it lacks leaves. As long as the trunk isn't soft or turning black, it is probably just dormant. Dormancy could be caused from low light or low temperatures. I would let it be for the winter, and after repotting in spring (check for signs of root rot at that time) give it plenty of light. Never, ever overwater!
Hope this helps some.
Aiyana

David said...

Hi Aiyana,
I too am in the Phoenix area and just purchased two Madagascar Palms, each about 2 ft in height, to live indoors. I have no experience with this plant, but most people seem to advocate putting them in bright sunny environments. However, Phoenix sun is different and I'm not sure its wise to expose them to west sun in bay windows all afternoon long in the summer. I'm really worried they are going to fry. Would appreciate your thoughts...should pull the blinds(which do let in filtered light) or pull them back from the windows? Thanks in advance. -David

Aiyana said...

Hi David,

A south or west exposure indoors should work fine, but not right up against the window. Last year I fried a rare and expensive palm in the Pachypodium genus by placing it too close to a south facing window, even with partially closed plantation shutters. Had I placed it a few feet away from the radiating heat of the window, it would have gotten plenty of light and been ok. Live and learn. If the room is air conditioned at the normal house temperature ranges and you place it a distance away from the window, it should do well. These palms do need sunlight--but not without protection in our climate. Just remember not to overwater--which is the major reason for failure Madagascar Palm. Water thoroughly when dry, and then let it dry out until barely moist, and repeat. I like to use a water gauge on my palm even though I have enough experience with it to know its ideal schedule. Humidity levels make a difference, especially since indoor humidity is usually lower than outside, so a water gauge will be a big helpin determining your palms' watering schedule for indoors. If you ever decide to put them under a covered patio, the watering schedules will need adjusting. Once you place your plants indoors, occasionally rotate them to keep them growing upright.

Aiyana

David said...

Thank you so much for the advice! Your Blog is outstanding... lots of great discussions and eye candy, especially for beginners like myself. -Dave

Anonymous said...

Hi!


I was searching around the internet to find out why my palm is dropping all of it leaves. I just repotted the plant about a week ago, it was becoming root bound. It got a decent amount of water when repotted, but its been repotted before and was fine. What concerns me is that the soil hasn't dried, all of its leaves have gone limp and fallen off, and its spring (so a normal time for growth).

Do you think it's been over watered in the process of transferring to a new pot? If so, how can I get the soil to dry out. The body of the cactus is still stiff.

Thanks,

Jones

Aiyana said...

Overwatering, especially if the climate is yet real warm, is sure a possiblilty. The only way to get the soil dried out is to be in a low humidity, higher temperature location and have excellent drainage so that the water drains quickly. If the potting soil is not too dense and it's not overly humid, it should dry out within a couple of weeks. I would not suggest disturbing it at the point. Just don't water it and have it in a sunny, dry, warm place. Unless you live in a dry, warm climate like our desert, your leaf drop may be the normal drop before the new leaves of spring emerge. (If you live in the Phoenix area leaf drop and the new leaves should have occured this month. I would avoid any water now until the soil is almost dry, and then hope for the best. As long as the root ball is not saturated with water and the roots can breathe as it dries out, it should be ok.

Anonymous said...

I have a nice specimen about 2.5 ft and planted it near a light colored wall facing the afternoon sun. It is growing very well but it has developed a yellow patch on the body that I'm thinking is sunburn from too much exposure. Will it need to be dug and potted to protect or will it acclimate? I live in San bernardino area in so uthern California.

Aiyana said...

The yellow spot could very well be sun burn. But, if the spot is soft, it may be rotting from too much moisture. If that's the case, not much can be done for it. The one problem with having this type of plant in the ground is the inability to control moisture.

Anonymous said...

I have a 12', yes 12 foot tall, and 5' tall madagascar palm. Both plants are 18 years old. I water them daily in the summer and have it potted in cactus soil. The plant stays in the direct 105 degree summer heat everyday. The tall section has bloomed non stop for the last 2 months. The 5' section has grown 6.5" in the last 4 months. Theis new growth is due to the plant being removed from a severly root bound pot and into a large terra cotta pot. I live in Fort Worth, TX and have to put the plants inside during the winter. Luckily my garage is 12' tall so I now have to put the large plant in at an angle. The 12' tall plant has three branches at the top.

Aiyana said...

Wow! You are lucky to have such great specimens. I'm really surprised about the daily watering. If we watered our Madagacar Palms that often, they would rot in no time. Ft. Worth is a lot more humid than here, so that makes it even more surprising. Also, the fact you are getting blooms is so unusual. I guess you have a perfect environment for your specimens and you've learned just what your plants need. My palm is so particular it does well in one spot on my covered patio, and if I move it even two feet, it really affects it and not in a good way. The same with watering. These palms seem to overly picky, but once you master what works best, then your examples show what is possible! Thanks for sharing.
Aiyana

Anonymous said...

If anyone is interested in growing these from seed, I had success with the seeds from i believe seeds n more dot com or something along those lines. I got 15 seeds and was able to germinate 12 of them! to me that's an incredible rate. I live in NJ by the way. I love this plant and have one that is about 2.5 feet tall which i have had for 5 years when i bought it it was about 9 inches.

Anonymous said...

What is going on when your Madagascar palm sprouts a babe off the top of the plant?

Aiyana said...

Madagascar palms can start branching, and it sounds like yours is in that process.
Aiyana

Anonymous said...

I live in central Missouri and my palm started as an 8" tall plant 6 years ago and is now just under 8' tall. It does lose all its leaves inside the house in winter but comes back well outside in the spring. The problem is it's getting too large to move inside every winter. Is it possible to propagate it from trunk cuttings? I'd certainly rather cut the trunk and create more trees than have it die from leaving it outside.

Aiyana said...

No, it is not possible to propagate with a trunk cutting. If the palm has produced small plant offsets near the base, those can be snapped off and rooted. If you cut your palm off at the trunk, you will most likely kill it unless there are offsets that are any size. I wouldn't take the chance.
Aiyana

Anonymous said...

Awesome plant. I live in Southern New Mexico and my palm is 8 ft tall. No flowers yet. Need to bring it in, in the winter, other than that LIKES the hot sun.

Anonymous said...

I live in Phoenix and have two. One is planted in the ground on the west side of my house under my Jacaranda tree, which provides shade in the hot summer months in the late afternoon. I planted it two years ago, it has grown three feet, has many babes and is blooming this spring. I'm excited now that I have read they don't bloom often. It does lose some of it's leafs in the winter, not all. I do cover it when there is frost. It has my house on two sides to protect it. It's watered by my drip everyday for just 10 minutes. (2 gallons per hour) I have another one I have had a year and a half on the north side of my house in a pot, always has been. It's did loose it leafs last winter, it now has many new leafs now. It to is watered by the drip system once a day (1 gallon an hour) for five minutes, it has grown about a foot and a half, no babies or blooms. I guess the lesson is they do much better in the grown with afternoon shade.

Anonymous said...

I live in Phoenix and have two. One is planted in the ground on the west side of my house under my Jacaranda tree, which provides shade in the hot summer months in the late afternoon. I planted it two years ago, it has grown three feet, has many babes and is blooming this spring. I'm excited now that I have read they don't bloom often. It does lose some of it's leafs in the winter, not all. I do cover it when there is frost. It has my house on two sides to protect it. It's watered by my drip everyday for just 10 minutes. (2 gallons per hour) I have another one I have had a year and a half on the north side of my house in a pot, always has been. It's did loose it leafs last winter, it now has many new leafs now. It to is watered by the drip system once a day (1 gallon an hour) for five minutes, it has grown about a foot and a half, no babies or blooms. I guess the lesson is they do much better in the grown with afternoon shade.

Anonymous said...

I live in laredo texas. I have one palm about 8 years, about ten ft tall. I haven't repoted it and it is in a 15 inch plastic pot. It is in m backyard, cement slab, no sun protection, in a cool 99 it a hot 112 days. It hasn't sprouted growth. Could it be. I need it repot it? It has done ok as is.

Aiyana said...

Is the tip of the plant still green? If so, then it's still alive. Experts recommend repotting every three years so that new soil can provide the proper nutrients. It needs room to grow, but not too much. Don't go up to a giant pot. Look at the root ball when removed from the pot. If it's root bound, then get a pot a couple of inches bigger and use new potting soil. Careful of the trunk when you repot--a stick by one of the spines really hurts!

Sue Mills said...

Hi, I live in Las Vegas and purchased our madagascar palm about 3yrs ago. It is currently 15" tall (has doubled it original size in 3yrs). It is in a ceramic pot facing the south. I have repotted it once since we've had it and plan to do so again in the spring. Yesterday I noticed the leaves were turning brown and wilting (like how it looks when it starts to go dormant). I'm worried that since I recently took over watering it, it may have been over watered. Normally I water every other week or so in the summer months, but recently I have also been emptying the left over water from the outside dog water bowl into it in the mornings (as I hate to waste water out in the desert), but its not every morning that this particular plant gets the water and there is usually not much in the bowl, maybe a 1-2 cups. However, we just had about 4 straight days of 110 degrees and maybe it got too much sun. I just went outside and the first 2 inches or so of soil is dry and underneath that it is slightly damp.
Any thoughts ?

Aiyana said...

The brown leaves could mean that the heat intensity (if exposed to direct sunlight) browned the leaves,or it could be a sign that the plant is stressed from a change in watering. These plants like consistency and do not like overwatering. It's too early to tell if it has developed root rot, so make sure the plant is not overwatered. If it continues to decline and the trunk gets squishy, then it has root rot. I'd invest in a moisture meter and make sure you do not have soggy soil further down in the pot. The plant needs thorough watering at its previous frequency rather than every day. If your moisture meter tells you the soil is on the dry side all the way down in the pot, then upping your frequency a bit would be ok in the summer. Just remember, most plants die of overwatering rather than underwatering.
In Arizona, my palm could not take direct sun, so after trial and error, I found the perfect spot for it on my covered patio. Had to move it twice to keep leaves from browning from morning or afternoon direct sun, so now it is in an area that does not get direct sun at all, but still plenty of bright light. It does very well in that same spot with no leaf browning at all any more. Even with our intense heat, I keep my water frequency consistent.
Aiyana

Anonymous said...

Charleston, SC here and a question on my lamerie. I've had it now for about 3 years, is about 12 inches tall, and in a small pot. It did quite well over the summer with nice leaves but recently dropped it's leaves. Nice large leaves replaced them with more to come. This sounds good, but the leaves are curling and dropping rather quickly. It gets strong sunlight most of the day (outside on balcony) and for awhile only watered it every 2 or 3 weeks. When the sudden growth of leaves occurred, I did start to water it more as I read that the plant needed more watering when producing leaves. I now wonder if I maybe watered too much thus causing the leaves to curl? There are still many new leaves coming up, so doesn't appear to be harmed at this point. Thoughts?

Aiyana said...

It's always best to stick to the same watering schedule per season regardless of what the plant is doing--unless it shows signs of stress from unusual weather conditions such as extreme dryness. I would go back to the watering schedule you had over the 3 year period. Sometimes leaves curl like you describe when the weather changes or the plant is moved. As your plant grows, consider moving it to a slightly bigger pot, but not until it's stabilized.

Travis said...

Ive had my Madagascar Palm since June and have Kept it on my roof-top all summer. It grew at least 4 inches last summer and looks great. The temps have dropped low as 37 degrees at night but still in the 70s during the day. Ive noticed a few leaves have dropped and some have brown spots on them. I would like to bring the plant inside but I do not have a window that lets direct sunlight into my home. Should I keep it on roof-top and bring inside when I know we will get a frost? Keep it inside with no direct sunlight? This is by far my favorite plant that I own and want to make sure I care for it properly this winter.

Aiyana said...

You have a dilemma! The palm won't tolerate even a light frost. To thrive, it really needs to receive direct sunlight from a went or south window when wintering in the house. It has more chance to make it through the winter with low direct sunlight than with frost. If you cannot provide it with a west or south facing window, then really cut back on watering for the whole time it is indoors. Best to use a moisture meter to make sure. Just don't let it dry out completely. Leaf drop in winter is normal. the brown spots are just the leaf starting to die off. It can lose all its leaves over winter with no problem. Just remember--do not overwater!
Aiyana

Al In Montana said...

I live in Montana, and have had my Madagascar palm for over 20 years. It is just under six feet tall and is getting it's first flowers this spring. I have a sunroom and the temperature is between 45 -65 degrees all winter, so it is dormant and rarely gets water then, but leafs out in the Spring and grows well.

Anonymous said...

Our madagascar has grown from 18" to nearly 5' in the past three years. It seems very healthy except for leaves curling and turning black at the tips. New growth comes out bright green and shiny; then, when they reach 2 to 3 inches long, the tips start turning black. Some of the older leaves have started crinkling and turning black at the tips too. We have not changed the plant's location or watering schedule. Any ideas??? Thanks!

realhuman said...

Pachypodium lamerei flower when they're only two feet tall in San Diego, where they grow outside in the ground.