New plant discovery

The World

The palm is found in an extraordinary isolated corner in the northwest of the island, some four days travel by road from the capitol. Local people had known about the tree for years. After all, it’s hard to miss, being the largest palm in Madagascar. It reaches a height of about 60 feet with leaves that are 15 feet long. It’s visible on satellite photographs, but no one had ever seen it flowering. As it turns out, they were lucky this time. Each of these only a hundred palms in existence has truly astonishing lifespan. For perhaps 100 years it does very little except grow to an immense height, nothing so remarkable there. Then suddenly things start to happen. This man works with Q Gardens in Madagascar and he describes the moment the palm begins to flower, �spectacular. At first there is a shoot, a very long shoot like an asparagus at first from the top of the tree. And then a few weeks later, this unique shoot starts to spread and at the end of this process you can have something like a Christmas tree at the top of the palm.� The branches of this tree within a tree then become covered in hundreds of tiny flowers that positively ooze with nectar, attracting any number of birds and insects. But the palm puts so much energy into flowering that after a few months its nutrients are depleted and the entire structure collapses. Thus ends the life cycle of this extraordinary plant. The question that bothers the man whose report on the discovery is published today is how everyone has missed what he calls this whopping palm until now. The other question is, how did it get here? It shares some characteristics with another palm tribe but that’s only found in Asia, nearly 4,000 miles away. Not only is this palm a new species, it’s an entire new genus. There’s a possibility that it’s been quietly living and dramatically dying on the island ever since Madagascar split from India, well over 80 million years ago.

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