Beccariophoenix madagascariensis

Family : Arecaceae

Text © Pietro Puccio


English translation by Mario Beltramini


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Similar to Beccariophoenix fenestralis, but without the typical fenestrations close to the rachis in the young plants, the Beccariophoenix madagascariensis is a rare Madagascar palm, slow growing and at extinction risk in the wild, where the stem can be 15 m tall © Giuseppe Mazza

The species is native to eastern Madagascar where is present in a reduced number of specimens in the submontane rainforests, mainly on poor and sandy soils, up to about 1200 m of altitude.

The name of the genus is the combination of the name of the Italian botanist and naturalist Odoardo Beccari (1843-1920), for whom the palms were one of the main interests, and of the genus Phoenix; the Latin specific name “madagascariensis” = of Madagascar, refers to the place of origin.

Common names: manarano palm (English); manarano, manara, maroala (Malagasy).

The Beccariophoenix madagascariensis Jum. & H.Perrier (1915) is an unarmed monoecious species with single stem, erect, up to about 15 m tall and 35 cm of diameter, of brown grey colour on which are visible the rings traces of the fallen leaves spaced of about 5 cm. The leaves are pinnate, 4-5 m long, with about 130 pairs of linear-lanceolate leaflets regularly arranged along the rachis, long in the median part up to about 170 cm and 4-5 cm broad, of bright green colour; the foliar base, with fibrous margins, up to about 1,5 m long, wraps the stem only partially. The inflorescences, on an up to 1 m long robust peduncle, generate among the leaves (interfoliar), about 1,2 m long, with ramifications of first (rarely second) order, initially enclosed in a woody bract, about 70 cm long, covered by a reddish brown tomentum. Unisexual flowers arranged in triads (a female flower between two male), except the terminal part where are present only male flowers, solitary or in couple. Ovoidal fruits with pointed apex, about 3,5 cm long and of 2,5 cm of diameter, of dark purple colour, containing only one ellipsoidal seed, about 2,4 cm long and of 2 cm of diameter.

It reproduces by seed, previously kept in water for two days, in sandy loam rich of organic substance maintained humid at the temperature of 26-28 °C with germination times of 1-3 months.

Believed to be extinct for many years, it has been “rediscovered” in 1986, arousing due to its remarkable characteristics the interest of botanists and collectors with an immediate request for seeds, that have been distributed and commercialized starting from 1990. Initially, seeds collected in various locations, and distributed all with the name of Beccariophoenix madagascariensis, originated two typologies of plants, one with evident fenestrations in the young leaves and other without them, that later on were indicated and commercialized as B. madagascariensis “windows form” and B. madagascariensis “no windows”. This dissimilarity, together with other particulars, gave rise to the suspicion that we were in presence of two different species, the confimation was gotten when it has been possible to detect significant differences in the inflorescence (infrafoliar in the “windows form” and interfoliar in the “no windows” one), in the flowers and the fruits that have led the botanists John Dransfield and Mijoro Rakotoarinivo to describe in 2014 the “windows form” as a new species with the name of Beccariophoenix fenestralis, distinct from the Beccariophoenix madagascariensis. Imposing palm with rather slow growth, cultivable in the tropical, subtropical climate regions and marginally warm temperate, where it can stand minimum temperature values, provided exceptional and short lasting, up to about -2 °C, in full sun and on even poor, draining, preferably sandy, acidic or neutral soils. It requires frequent waterings, especially in the dry periods in presence of high temperatures, and fertilizations with balanced products with microelements under form of chelates, particularly iron, being easily subject to chlorosis.

The stems are utilized in the constructions,the young leaves to realize various handicrafts, in particular for making a known headgear (“manarano”); locally is consumed the vegetative apex (“heart of palm”), use that they try to deter as it causes the death of the plant.

Due to the high fragmentation of the population, the reduced number of specimens, the anthropic pressure and the above mentioned food use, the species has been inserted in the red list of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) as “vulnerable” (species at risk of extinction in the wild).

The species is listed in the appendix II of the CITES (species whose trade is ruled at international level).


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