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Twenty new Madagascar palm species discovered by Kew botanists

Kew's work in new species discovery is helping to safeguard the future of some of the country's most endangered plant life.

A view of Makira Reserve, Madagascar (Image: Bill Baker, RBG Kew)

New species discoveries made by Kew in its anniversary year include an astounding 24 new species of palm, ranging from enormous forest canopy trees such as the 25m tall Cyrtostachys bakeri, discovered by Kew's palm expert Dr Bill Baker in Papua New Guinea, to slender, elegant palms from the forest undergrowth. An astonishing twenty of the new palm species come from Madagascar.

Did you know?

A half of all known Madagascar palms have been discovered by Kew botanists, like this beautiful Dypsis ankirindro from the north-east of the country. (Image: Bill Baker, RBG Kew)

“After 20 years of research, we’re still finding new species in Madagascar,” says Bill Baker. Less than 10% of Madagascar’s original vegetation remains and a further 200,000-300,000 hectares of forest are destroyed every year. As a result, 90% of Madagascar’s palms, including all of the 20 new species, are threatened with extinction because of habitat loss and destruction of palms for the numerous useful products that they provide, such as food and construction materials.

Some of Madagascar's palms are incredibly rare; for example, fewer than 10 individuals of one of the new species, Dypsis humilis, were found in a single forest patch used heavily by local people for timber. Innovative conservation strategies involving local communities are needed to save these species. This approach has been effectively employed for the conservation of the ‘suicide palm’, Tahina spectabilis, discovered in Madagascar by a collaborative team led from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 2007.

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9 January 2010
It's always exciting to hear when new species of palms are found and descibed in Madagascar. Personally, I have made two visits there in search of palms and hopefully I can make it back again in the near future.
9 January 2010
So interesting ! If you need somebody for trying to grow those palms in Thailand, you can contact me Regards, Philippe
9 January 2010
Love the article, thanks for highlighting the new palms. However, I object to the phrase 'suicide palm' to describe the beautiful Tahina. That phrase should be banished -- many palms are monocarpic and Kew should not succumb to the media hype.