Known as the “suicide palm” and “tahina palm”, the recently discovered palm species Tahina spectabilis is a gigantic palm found only in remote parts of north-west Madagascar. The mature palms are so large, in fact, that they can be seen via Google Earth!
This extremely rare palm can live for 30 – 50 years, and once it reaches the end of its life, it blooms once in a spectacular display of hundreds of flowers that seem to burst from the plant, and then the plant dies just a few months later.
The species is listed as “critically endangered”, with only about 30 mature trees are known in the wild. Efforts are under way to conserve this species through distribution of seed and cultivation in botanic gardens, including in the Merwin Palm Collection.
The Tahina spectabilis currently growing in the Merwin Palm Collection was a gift from Dr. John Dransfield. Dr. Dransfield of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is the world’s foremost palm expert and a member of The Merwin Conservancy’s Advisory Board. He is The Merwin Conservancy’s trusted palm collection advisor.
Dr. Dransfield was the one who was sent out to do the field work when this species was first discovered in 2007, and in 2008 he affirmed that this was in fact a new species, and he was the one who named it. Its name is derived from “Tahina”, a Malagasy word meaning “to be protected” or “blessed”, being the given name of Anne-Tahina Metz, the daughter of its discoverer, while “spectabilis” means spectacular in Latin.
When Dransfield came to Hawai‘i for a visit to work with the Merwin Collection, he brought the seedling over from Floribunda Palms (where one of the seeds was sprouted and grown) on Hawai‘i Island as a gift to W.S. Merwin, and they planted it in the garden together.
The palm is absolutely thriving today, as evidenced in the photo below. A wonderful example of how botanical gardens around the world can contribute to cultivating endangered plants, to global biodiversity, and conservation.
Want to “virtually explore” the Merwin Palm Collection? Search through our archive of Palm Facts of the Week, featuring palms hand-planted by W.S Merwin. To search through the Online Merwin Palm Database, visit this link.
If you’re inspired to help The Merwin Conservancy preserve and care for the Merwin Palm Collection into the future, please consider making a tax-deductible donation.
Painting by Lucy Smith available in print at http://www.lucytsmith.com