A gigantic palm that flowers itself to death and exists as part of an entirely unique genus has been discovered in Madagascar; its name will be published in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society on 17 January 2008. The mystery palm has a huge trunk which towers over 18m high and fan leaves which are 5m in diameter ?among the largest known in flowering plants. This is the most massive palm ever to be found in Madagascar.
The plant has an unusual and spectacular lifecycle; growing to dizzying heights before the stem tip converts into a giant terminal inflorescence and bursts into branches of hundreds of tiny flowers. Each flower is capable of being pollinated and developing into fruit and soon drips with nectar and is surrounded by swarming insects and birds. The nutrient reserves of the palm become completely depleted as soon as it fruits and the entire tree collapses and dies in a macabre demise.
Xavier Metz, a Frenchman who manages a cashew plantation nearby, and his family were walking in a remote area of north-western Madagascar when they stumbled across the giant palm and the huge pyramidal bunch of flowers sprouting out of the tip. They had never seen anything like it before and their photographs soon reached John Dransfield, co-author of the Palms of Madagascar and an Honorary Research Fellow of Kew, who was astonished when he saw material and images of the tree.
I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the images posted on the web,?he says. The palm appeared superficially like the Talipot palm of Sri Lanka, but that had never been recorded for Madagascar. Clearly this was going to be an extremely exciting discovery and I just couldnt wait to examine specimens in detail.
When material of the palm collected by Johns Malagasy student Mijoro Rakotoarinivo finally reached the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the details of the flowers and inflorescence branches immediately suggested it was a new, undesc
|Contact: Davina Quarterman|