Tahina Palm

Tahina spectabilis

Other Names: Suicide Palm

Family: Arecaceae

Natural Range: Madagascar

IUCN Conservation Status

Critically Endangered (CR)

Tahina spectabilis is a tree palm found in the Analalava district of North West Madagascar. The species has attracted a lot of attention from the scientific community in the nine years since it was first detected. The palm was discovered by a cashew nut farmer, who identified the species as unusual in relation to any other type he had seen before. This was soon confirmed by the international plant community and research has been conducted on the species ever since. The palm was confirmed as a unique individual whose closest relations were of the small Chuniophoeniceae family who reside mainly in Asia. Recent research has suggested that Tahina spectabilis is in fact a member of the Chuniophoeniceae family under the sub family Coryphoideae.

Tahina spectabilis is an incredibly tall tree palm with its trunk reaching 18m and a diameter of 50cm, in addition to its height, the palms leaf sheath can reach 110x58cm; this further height means that the palm can be seen from aerial images on Google Maps! The species grows at the foot of limestone hills, in an area that is very arid during the dry season but floods during the rainy season. It is suspected that the species was abundant in wetland habitats but due to the reduction of the habitat and an increase in wild fires the species has retreated to the shadow of the limestone mountain for protection.

The palm is particularly unique due its dramatic, hapaxanthic flowering sequence. This means the species only flowers once in its lifetime, between the ages of 30 and 50, when it produces a large additional stem that branches into clusters of flowers. Flowering occurs in September during Madagascar’s dry season.

This species is listed as Critically Endangered. The main issues facing Tahina spectabilis are its small and isolated population, loss of habitat, and grazing by livestock and other organisms.  Due to its interesting history Tahina spectabilis has been listed in the press making The World’s 100 Most Threatened Species and the Top 10 new Species of 2008. The hope is that this publicity will contribute to protecting the species in the future. Action has already been taken with seed harvesting to grow the species both within the current site, Madagascar and internationally. The local village has also been involved, setting up a committee which has seen the palms fenced off to protect from cattle and actions taken against birds; therefore the future for Tahina spectabilis is a hopeful one.

This species is reported as held in 20 ex-situ collections.

Selected References:

Dransfield, J., Leroy, B., Metz, X. & Rakotoarinivo, M., 2008. Tahina – A New Palm Genus from Madagascar. Palms, 52 (1), pp. 31-39. [PDF]

Dransfield, J., Rakotoarinivo, M., Baker, W.J., Bayton, R.P., Fisher, J.B., Horn, J.W., Leroy, B. & Metz, X., 2008. A new coryphoid palm genus from Madagascar. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 156 (1), pp. 79-81.

Encyclopaedia of Life, 2015. Tahina spectabilis: Suicide palm. [online]

James, H.E., Rakotoarinivo, M., Baker, W.J., Dransfield, J. & Shapcott, A., 2010. The Conservation Genetics and Demography of Tahina spectabilis a Recently Discovered Monospecific Palm Genus from Madagascar. 2010 International meeting of (ATBC), Bali, Indonesia, 19-23 July 2010.

NBC News. 2008. Top 8 New Species from 2008. [online]

Rakotoarinivo, M. & Dransfield, J. 2012. Tahina spectabilis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T195893A2430024.http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012.RLTS.T195893A2430024.en.

ZSL Living Conservation. The 100 most threatened species. The Zoological Society of London. [online]

Photo credit: Dransfield, J. (Available at: rarepalmseeds.com)

Did you know?

Kew’s Millenium Seed Bank Partnership currently provides ex situ conservation for more than 3,900 tree species