Native Plants of Madagascar
Madagascar, located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa, is the world’s fourth largest island, and has one of the most diverse collections of plant life on earth. Many of Madagascar’s plants have no relatives elsewhere in the world. According to Wild Madagascar, a website devoted to raising awareness of Madagascar’s uniqueness, there are 10 families and 260 genera of plants that are unique to Madagascar. Only Australia, with 13 endemic plant families, has more.
There are 1,000 different species of orchids on the island, and 85 percent of those are unique to Madagascar. The comet orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale), originally discovered by Charles Darwin, has a white blossom whose perfume attracts the long-tongued hawk moth, the only insect capable of pollinating the plant’s foot-long nectar tube. The black orchid (Cymbidiella falcigera) blooms from December to January with green and black flowers. Destructive slash and burn agriculture methods, as well as the orchid's popularity with collectors, have caused it to become endangered, according to Bushhouse-Madagascar.com
Of Madagascar’s 170 palms, 165 are found only in Madagascar. The ravinala palm (Ravenala madagascariensis), a national symbol of Madagascar, is sometimes called the traveller’s tree, since its branches hold water which a passer-by may use to quench his thirst. This palm also provides a traveller with instant orientation, since its leaf growth follows the path of the sun from east to west. Ravinala palm is in great demand as a construction material, since its large fronds are commonly used to build the walls and roofs of Malagasy homes.
The long-lived, fat-trunked baobab tree is sometimes called the bottle tree or “upside-down tree” for its fantastic branch structure. Six of the eight species of baobab on the island are endemic. Although it is one of Madagascar’s most iconic trees, it is endangered because of slash and burn farming, over-grazing, and fire.
An entire plant family, didiereaceae, is found nowhere else in the world but in Madagascar’s arid southwestern region. Although the plants in this family resemble the cacti of the American southwest, they are not related. Didiereaceae grow in an ecosystem called a spiny forest or spiny desert, which is being threatened because of its destruction for use as charcoal and building material, according to the website Wildmadagascar.org.
Madagascar Rosy Periwinkle
The Madagascar rosy periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), an evergreen herb with pale pink flowers, has long been used by locals to make an herbal medicine. Recently, the plant was discovered to be the source of a potent cancer fighter, a compound called vincristine or vinblastine.