Thursday, January 17, 2008

A remarkable new palm from Madagascar

As a result of its long isolation, Madagascar has unique biota. Although it is best known for its lemurs, Madagascar’s palm flora is both diverse and distinctive. In 1995 Dransfield and Beentje recognised 170 species of palms from Madagascar, 164 of which were found only in Madagascar. Since then another 7 species have been described, with another 20 apparently awaiting description. Most of these new species have been found in the eastern wet areas. The western part of the island is drier, and has a much less diverse palm flora. However, an entirely new genus has been discovered in the western dry region - one that is so large and distinctive that the BBC reports it can be seen in satellite images. A description of this new species, Tahina spectabilis was published in the January issue of the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.

Tahina, which means “blessed” or “to be protected” in Malagasy (and is also the name of the daughter of the Metz family, Anne-Tahina), is a remarkable tree. It is one of the largest palms in Madagascar, growing 10 m tall (20 m according to the BBC article) with stem diameter of 50 cm. It is also hapaxanthic - it reproduces just once in its lifetime and them dies. As a result of this, it puts all of its resources into flowering, producing a 4-m tall inflorescence. (You can see an image of it here.) [more...]

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