Despite it's common name of Madagascan Palm (or a Pachy to its fans) the Pachypodium is actually a succulent and therefore more closely related to cacti than palms. It hails from Madagascar and because it has leaves growing around the crown this combination gives rise to the common name of Madagascan Palm.
Another house plant that Dr Hessayon describes as "unusual rather than attractive" and on this occasion because it looks a bit like a dieting pineapple (yes, you did read that right) we're going to agree. It may not be the most popular plant to stumble across in the average nursery or garden shop, but for anyone who likes a quirky easy going indoor succulent this could be your perfect match.
The swollen stem grows upwards with the leaves surrounding the crown gradually falling and then growing new ones as it ages. All parts of Pachypodium contain a latex sap which is poisonous, although even if you do have pets this may not be a total deal breaker because the plant protects itself by way of tough hooked spines that will deter even the most curious cat. The leaves are fair game for possible gnawing though, so unless they are sitting high up on a tall plant and therefore out of the way, you will have to think carefully before purchasing.
There are several species, although the easiest and the most likely one you will come across is Pachypodium lamerei. They are sometimes confused with the Adenium (Desert Rose) but Pachypodium rarely flowers in cultivation and when compared side by side they are quite distinctive and different looking.
Always pick the sunniest spot you have.
A common myth about succulents is that they do not need much water
A common myth about succulents is that they do not need much water. It's true they will survive with little water, but they won't thrive if you treat them this way. Water your Pachypodium liberally in the Summer months whenever the soil dries out. In Winter water only sparingly.
The Pachypodium is not a heavy feeder, so you will only need to fertilise a few times a year at most. As always only do it when the plant is in active growth.
Warm. No lower than 10°C / 50°F in Winter.
They take considerable time to outgrow their pots, however you may choose to repot your Pachypodium if it starts to wobble or topple from becoming top heavy. A standard soil mix is fine, but if you want to be extra safe add a little bit of grit to improve drainage. You can do it at anytime of the year, however take care when you do it because the spines can be painful if you grab the stem in the wrong way.
Courageous readers may like to try and remove then pot up the offsets that are eventually produced around the base. However it's very difficult for the average houseplant owner to do this successfully.
Speed of Growth
This is a slow growing plant. However if you water well and provide good light in Summer you will notice more growth at this time of the year.
Height / Spread
Natively it can reach staggering heights, although In cultivation it's much more restrained. After many (and we do mean many) years the stem could reach upwards of 4ft / 1.2m in height and up to 24in / 60cm in diameter.
Flowering of the Madagascan Palm is rare indoors because the plant needs to reach maturity and tall heights first. There are always exceptions of course and if you do achieve flowers they will be white, numerous and star shaped.
Are Pachypodium Plants Poisonous?
The milky sap is poisonous to pets and people. However it's difficult to get at due to the protective spines on the trunk, so it's likely your pet or child will avoid the plant as a result. In fact more damage is caused by these spines than the plant's sap.
Pachypodium is a very adaptive house plant, it will take a wide range of temperature and light changes and adjusts accordingly. Our instructions above will help you grow a good specimen, but even if you treat it badly from time to time it should stay alive for quite a long time.
This is a classic result of overwatering and constantly saturated soil, especially in Winter. If the rot isn't too widespread remove the dead roots, follow our watering instructions here going forward and the plant should eventually recover.
If all the roots are dead then the plant like many a cactus is likely a lost cause, as a last ditch effort you can still remove all the dead roots and pot the "trunk" into fresh moist (not wet) compost then put in a light and warm place. There is a possibility new roots will grow from the base.
Leaves falling off (Summer)
The leaves only grow around the top of the plant, as it ages it's normal therefore to see the lower leaves falling off a Pachypodium. In a short while new leaves will emerge from the crown to replace those which have fallen.
Leaves falling off (Winter)
If the plant has been positioned in a hot spot with great Winter sunlight it may have been fooled into thinking it's still Summer, in which case it will still be growing (see issue above), i.e. this leaf fall is normal and nothing to be concerned about.
However if the plant is "resting" and growth has completely stopped, but leaves are still falling it could be a sign the temperature is too low and dormancy has been triggered. Completely withhold watering until new leaves start to appear (this could take up to a month or two).
If all leaves fall off, it's time to inspect the roots for root rot. If there is no sign of rot, wait until Spring comes around and new leaves should start growing again.
Credit for Pachypodium flower photo - Article / Gallery - Bach01
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