The island nation of Madagascar, off the southeastern coast of Africa, contains 12,000 plant species, most of them endemic to the island. Ecosystems on the island include tropical moist forests, dry forests, wetlands and coral reefs. Some of the lowland rainforests receive 80 inches of rain a year and stay right around 100 percent humidity. Accordingly, there are plants on Madagascar that simply will not do well anywhere else on earth.
Endemic to Madagascar, the common name for this plant is traveler’s palm. It’s most striking characteristic is its huge, fan-like structure. The leaves of the traveler’s palm can grow to 10 feet in length and, when mature, the tree will stand 30 to 60 feet in height. The traveler’s palm likes a somewhat sandy soil and lots of direct sun. If you live in USDA zone 10 or 11, the traveler’s palm would make a spectacular specimen plant in your tropical landscape design.
This is another plant endemic to Madagascar, and one you don’t want to bump into on a dark night in the desert. Like our cactus, the spiny Alluaudia, as it is known, has adapted to life in the desert with spiny thorns that act as protection for its leaves. Unlike our cactus, however, the spiny Alluaudia is a woody plant and not a succulent. Found in an ecoregion known as the “spiny desert,” in southern and southwestern Madagascar, it can grow to 50 feet in height.
Commonly known as the “Star of Bethlehem” orchid, it is pollinated exclusively by the hawk moth. This plant blooms in white flowers with 10 to 12 inch long, tube-like nectaries, or spurs, (the gland that excretes nectar). Since the nectar is at the bottom of this tube, the flower is difficult to pollinate. The moth hawk, however, with a very long nose, or proboscis, is able to get in there and get the job done. On Madagascar you will find this orchid attached to rain forest trees, generally on the east coast of the island.