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Botanically Bizarre Madagascar

The Island of Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa, must be one of the most interesting places on earth, botanically speaking! If you thumb through an encyclopedia of tropical plants, you will find an awful lot of plants with Madagascar or madagascariensis in the common or botanical name—and those are only a few of the more than 12,000 plant species native only to this island. For instance, Madagascar’s endemic plants include165 species of palm, over 600 species of orchid, 39 species of tree fern, 6 of the eight or so species of Baobab tree, all species of Alluadia, most of the world’s Pachypodiums, over 400 species of fern, and the national
Symbol—the Traveler’s Tree (Ravenalia madagascariensis). The pretty annual flowering periwinkles we plant in our window boxes and flower beds each spring are cultivars of the native species Catharanthus roseus (Vinca roseus).
Commonly available houseplants from Madagascar include the succulent Madagascar Palm (Pachypodium); the Triangle (Dypsis decaryi), Areca (Dypsis lutescens), and Majesty (Ravenea rivularis) palms; Dwarf Papyrus (Cyperus isocladus), Pleomele reflexa, and Dracaena marginata; cultivars of its native Euphorbia milii “Crown of Thorns”; and the Polka Dot Plant or “Splash” (Hypoestes).
What most attracts me to the flora of Madagascar is what I call the “bizarre” plants. While some of its native plants fall into the “beautiful” category (mostly palms and orchids), I like the succulents that are found in the deserts and dry spiny forests and shrublands of southern Madagascar. Looking at photographs of this region, one might be looking at another planet or at illustrations from a Dr. Seuss book.
I have long been attracted to “fat plants”, caudiciforms, with their wonderful swollen bases.  (Maybe it makes me feel better about my own figure.) I think almost anyone would agree that a mature baobab (Adansonia), growing to 60’ or better with a trunk diameter of up to 60’ and with a life span of 2000 years or more, is the “king” of fat plants.    
The uniqueness of Madagascar’s wonderful plants is the result of the island’s separation from Africa over 150 million years ago. Sadly, much of this diversity is now threatened by modern human activity. If you are lucky enough to have visited this botanically magical place, please let me know.
Posted: 5/28/2013 by Margot | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: MargotGunn, TheGreatIndoors
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