Madagascar Palm – Pachypodium lamerei
The island of Madagascar is known for it's wide variety of unique flora (and fauna). Even though it has substantially less land mass, it has many more species of palms than the neighboring continent of Africa. Although December's featured plant is called a Madagascar Palm and has some of the characteristics of the family, it is not a true palm, but actually a succulent from the deserts of Madagascar.
The Madagascar Palm has a thick, spiny, club-shaped trunk with a tight cluster of long glossy leaves on the top which give it a palm-like appearance. Although it is a popular houseplant for a sunny window, it can grow to a spectacular display of eight feet or more in optimal outdoor conditions. At maturity, the Madagascar Palm will produce large fragrant flowers (2"-3" in diameter) which are white with yellow centers.
I like growing Madagascar Palms because they are drought and salt tolerant. In the Northeast, I move my plants outdoors into a warm, sunny spot. It will actively grow in the hot summer months in rich, well-drained soil (a regular cacti mix). I let the plants dry out between waterings and then irrigate thoroughly.
During the summer months, I regularly fertilize the Madagascar Palms with fish emulsion.
If you live in zones 10 or above, the Madagascar Palm can stay outside year-round. However; for the rest of us, these plants must be relocated indoors to a sunny, bright location. In the winter months, it will naturally start to defoliate (drop leaves) in response to the cold weather and shorter daylight hours. Don't panic when this happens. Just offer very little water so that the plant does not experience root rot because of cold, wet "feet".
The Madagascar Palm works well in households where the cats like to help "prune" plants. Because of it's spiny appearance, my plants have been studiously avoided by the feline members of the family.