Last Updated on September 21, 2021 by Grow with Bovees
Pachypodium lamerei, the Madagascar Palm, or Cactus Palm Tree, is a wonderfully weird-looking hardy plant native to the African island of Madagascar.
Although the Madagascar Palm Pachypodium lamerei has a rosette of palm-like green leaves and is covered in sharp spines on its spindly trunk, like a cactus plant, Madagascar Palms are not true palms, neither are they a cactus.
Instead, it is a semi-succulent shrub belonging to the Apocynaceae or dogbane family.
Madagascar Palms can be grown indoors and outdoors in zones 9 to 11.
Plant them in a cactus potting mixture that is slightly alkaline and free draining.
They like warm temperatures and bright light, ideally in full sun, so when grown indoors, keep them in a sunny window.
Mature plants can reach over 20 feet tall in 10 years and never fail to be a conversation piece.
The specific epithet Pachypodium, means thick footed, which is derived from the Greek word pachus, which means “thick”, and podion, meaning foot.
To understand how to care for these unusual tropical plants, it helps to know where and how Madagascar palms grow in their native habitat.
Whether growing it in the garden or as a houseplant, Pachypodium or “pachy” is relatively easy to grow and take care of. Here’s everything you need to know!
Madagascar Palms Native Habitat
The island of Madagascar is to the east of Southern Africa. The Madagascar Palm Pachypodium lamerei is native to southern Madagascar, an arid tropical region that receives very little precipitation.
To cope with these dry conditions, the Madagascar Palm evolved a thick, succulent grey trunk.
Being a succulent plant makes them very drought hardy plants. The trunk contains photosynthesizing cells, as well as producing the beautiful shiny leaves.
In its natural habitat, Madagascar Palm grows on rocks rich in limestone and gneiss.
They grow in the spiny lowland forests in the south of the island and can reach gigantic heights of over 24 feet tall!
Ideal Outdoor Growing Conditions for Pachypodium lamerei
Madagascar Palms are beautiful outdoor landscape plants and can be grown as a hardy perennial in USDA zones 9 to 11.
They prefer growing in a soil type that is slightly alkaline because, naturally, they grow in a limestone-rich soil mix.
Cactus potting soil is the perfect growing medium, but they also grow well in sandy soil that drains well. Drainage is crucial to prevent root rot.
When planting a Pachypodium in the ground, leave a generous amount of room around the plant for growth. Each plant requires an area of about 35-50 inches wide.
Choose a position that gets full sun or partial shade. Think carefully about where you plant it because they do not like to be transplanted.
In the warmer months of spring and summer, Madagascar Palms require regular watering, but the surface soil must dry out completely between watering. They need less water during winter, and they become more and more drought-hardy with age.
Feed Madagascar Palms with an all-purpose organic liquid fertilizer at the beginning of spring and summer. Dilute it to half-strength so that it does not burn plants. Fertilizing Pachypodium will speed up its growth. They can grow up to 12 inches per year!
It is normal for them to drop their leaves during winter. So do not panic if you see decaying leaves. Just remember, do not water or fertilize a pachy while they are dormant!
When it comes to spring and the beginning of summer they will undoubtedly come into their own again.
How to Grow Pachypodium Indoors
In cooler climates, Madagascar Palm is grown in a pot so that it can be taken indoors during colder months of the year.
Although they do not grow as large in containers — they will reach about 6 feet tall — they still make interesting houseplants with beautiful tropical leaves.
Unfortunately, generally they do not produce their beautiful white flowers if kept indoors because they do not get enough sunlight, no matter how much houseplant fertilizer you feed them.
But flowers aren’t everything(!) and you’ll still get to enjoy the lush leaves which can grow up to 15 inches in length and 4 inches wide, so, as mentioned before they still make very attractive houseplants.
Plus, you never know, the right sunny patio or porch could be the perfect spot to keep it over summer, and you may just get lucky and gain a few flowers.
Even completely indoors, perfectly positioned in front of a south-facing window might just do the trick!
Choose a pot size that is appropriate for the size pachy you get. Do not plant a small plant in a giant pot. Choose a heavy pot or container, such as a clay pot, as these plants can get top-heavy and may topple over if the pot is too small!
Also, find a pot with drainage holes sufficient for the size of the plant.
Plant your pachy in a potting mixture suitable for cactus type plants or create your own by mixing general-purpose potting soil with perlite, 2:1.
Place the pot in a south or west-facing window in a sunny position with plenty of exposure to sunlight. The ideal temperature range for the Madagascar Palm is 65-75 °F (18-24 °C).
The best time to pot a new Madagascar Palm Tree is in the spring. Water it regularly, especially during its first few months, being careful to let the soil of the palm tree dry between watering.
Water it sparingly during winter when the plants lose their leaves and go dormant, so you’re just left with a barrel stem.
In early spring, when you start to see new leaves form, feed your Madagascar palm with an all-purpose organic liquid fertilizer, diluted to half-strength. Repeat at the start of summer.
Maintaining and Propagating Pachypodium
A healthy Madagascar Palm Tree will outgrow its pot every 3 to 4 years, and then it will need repotting.
To guard your hands against the sharp spines, wrap a towel or newspaper around the plant when you are maneuvering it. Thick garden gloves are a must!
Madagascar Palm Plants can be propagated from offshoots or from seed.
In the spring, soak the seed(s) for 24 hours in warm water and then sow the seeds in 3-inch-deep trays in gritty, well-draining soil. Sprinkle a very thin layer of grit over the seeds to cover them and keep them moist until they have germinated.
If your pachy grows a branch from the main stem, you can cut it off when it reaches an inch or so in length.
Allow the cutting to dry for a few days and callous over before planting it in a small pot with a cactus potting mixture.
Before long you’ll have a new plant to rival the mother plant!
Pests and Diseases that Affect Madagascar Palm
As indoor plants, Madagascar Palms are relatively problem-free.
Outdoors, they flower in summer, where the blooms are often damaged by aphids.
They can also be vulnerable to lance nematode, mealybugs, and cassava whitefly, so keep an eye out for signs of disease from time to time.
A Madagascar Palm makes a large, delightful houseplant and a beautiful outdoor flowering plant.
These semi-succulent tropical plants are adapted to thrive in arid conditions, so they are highly heat and drought tolerant. They thrive in a sunny spot in the garden or in a south-facing window with plenty of sunlight, even direct sunlight.
Pachypodium lamerei prefers growing in slightly alkaline soil, and it needs excellent drainage. When growing it in a pot, choose a heavy one with many drainage holes. Plant them in a cactus potting mixture or a 2:1 mixture of potting soil and perlite.
Water Madagascar Palm regularly but allow it to dry between watering. Overwatering these plants can kill them, especially during winter when they are dormant. Don’t panic if you see some leaf drop.They lose their leaves over winter but regrow them in early spring.