The “Madagascar Palm” Pachypodium lamerei [pak-uh-PO-dee-um] [la-MER-ee-eye], is a flowering plant native to Africa the island of Madagascar.
The Pachypodium lamerei plant is not a cactus or a palm tree but gets labeled as one. The barrel stem of the ‘Cactus Palm’ is covered with thick spines. It carries an umbrella of shiny green leaves at the top of the trunk.
This succulent plant has an unusual combination of tropical leaves making Pachypodium plants look like a member of a desert cactus family and makes for a real conversation piece.
Pachypodiums are part of the Apocynaceae family, which includes a wide variety of genus, including various trees and shrubs.
Pachypodium means “thick foot,” which is fitting. The plant is a stem succulent plant. These plants primarily conduct photosynthesis through the stem instead of the leaves.
Its common name is the “Madagascar Palm” however, it goes by a few other names:
- Summer-blooming clubfoot
- Three-spined clubfoot
- Ghost men plant
While it’s native to southern Madagascar, this “cactus palm” makes a lovely houseplant growing in USDA hardiness zones 9a through 11. Use the following plant care tips to keep your “pachy” healthy.
Madagascar Palm Care
How Tall Does The Cactus Palm Get?
People often purchase Madagascar plants as small plants without trunks. Mature plants can grow to reach 20′ feet tall.
However, the Pachypodium lamerei grows quickly and may reach up to three feet in just a couple of years.
The long “cactus palm stem” also begins to thicken and can hold quite a bit of water. As the cactus palm tree matures, it starts to get too top heavy, requiring a heavy pot to keep it from tipping over.
During the spring, Madagascar palms begin to grow their long shiny leaves.
The leaves typically reach up to 15” inches long and four inches wide. They almost resemble drooping pickles extending from the top of the trunk to the cactus base.
The leaves fall off in the winter, leaving just the cactus base. However, new leaves form in the spring.
Does The Madagascar Palm Flower and Have a Fragrance?
If you’re lucky, the Madagascar monolith may produce small white flowers between the leaves.
The flowers are unscented and typically only appear when the plant is grown in conditions that resemble its native environment.
What Light and Temperature Does Pachypodium “Cactus” Grow Best?
Madagascar Palm trees are sun-loving, prefers warm weather, bright light and full sun in some locations. When positioning plants, place Pachypodiums in a south-facing window with lots of full sunlight.
When growing indoors you may want to keep it near a heater vent or register to ensure it stays warm in the winter months.
During the winter, the plant should never be kept below 55° degrees Fahrenheit.
When plants are kept it warm enough, they may retain a few of its leaves throughout the winter.
How Much Water and Fertilizer Do Madagascar Palms Need?
Keep the palm cactus on the dry side and water only when the soil is dry. When watering, the plants should be thoroughly watered throughout the summer and decrease the watering during the winter.
When the leaves fall off, STOP watering.
At the beginning of spring and the beginning of summer apply a balanced houseplant fertilizer (liquid or granular).
This will help to encourage new growth during the warmer months when plants are actively growing. However, if your potting soil mix contains houseplant fertilizer, the plants should not need to add any extra.
What Is The Best Soil Type For A Madagascar Cactus?
Like many succulent and cactus type plants Pachypodiums grow best in the regular cactus potting mix.
This mix tends to provide superior drainage, which helps keep the roots from rotting.
If you need to transplant the plant, repot in the spring just as it starts to wake from dormancy. Also, we like to use clay pots with drainage holes over the plastic to keep plants on the “dry side.”
Grooming and Maintenance
The only grooming needed is the removal of dead or decaying leaves.
How To Propagate Pachypodium Lamerei
You can propagate the Pachypodium lamerei from offsets or seeds. Both can be purchased or taken from the plant. However, Madagascar palm propagation from seeds is difficult.
The seeds don’t germinate easily. When growing Pachypodium plants from seed, place the seed in warm water for one day. Sow in moist sand and keep them at room temperature.
When starting from offsets collect the offsets from the plant. Search for ball-shaped cacti growing near the trunk. They should be just below the leaves.
Carefully break these offsets off the trunk and allow them to dry for about four to eight days.
Place the small plants in individual pots with drainage holes, in a mixture of one-part soil to three parts sand.
Keep the plants warm until the roots form. The leaves may immediately die off. However, after the plants take root, the leaves should resume growing.
Madagascar Palms Pest Infestation and Diseases
The biggest threat to the health of your Madagascar Palm is overwatering resulting in root rot.
People often overwater succulents and cacti. It’s easy to think that they are dried out when the trunk still contains water.
One of the risks of overwatering is breakage. A long spindly trunk of the plant may suddenly snap in half and tip over. However, this also occurs when plants are kept in a location where they do not get enough light or cold.
When the plant bends in half, it can’t be brought back to life.
NOTE: If the plant tips over, but does not break, you can attempt to revive it by placing it in a mixture of soil and sand. Limit the watering to see if the roots strengthen.
You shouldn’t be in a rush to grow this plant and it doesn’t need much water. It grows quickly enough on its own.
If you don’t water the plant enough, plants may experience leaf drop during the summer instead of the winter. If the leaves turn yellow, you may need to use liquid plant fertilizer.
Spider mites and whitefly can be a problem. Look for these pests on the undersides of the leaves. A good rinse of some Neem oil should keep them under control.
What Are The Best Uses For Pachypodium Lamerei?
You’ll most likely want to grow them as attractive houseplants, where indoors the plant will enjoy the warm temperatures to grow. Remember to choose a south-facing window for optimal exposure to sunlight.
However, the Madagascar palm makes an excellent addition also with other potted outdoor landscape plants such as the Desert Rose Adenium.
The Madagascar palm Pachypodium also looks great when placed around other cacti growing in full sun. Madagascar Palm flowers will eventually tower over the smaller plants and become the focal point of the display.