Tahina spectabilis (dimaka)
Large enough to be visible in satellite imagery, dimaka is an enormous ‘self-destructive’ palm that remained undetected by science until 2007.
About this species
Large enough to be visible in satellite imagery, Tahina spectabilis, commonly known as dimaka, is an enormous ‘self-destructive’ palm that remained undetected by science until 2007. Its extraordinary appearance and genetic evidence indicate that this palm belongs in a genus of its own within a group of palms originally thought to be restricted to Asia. Efforts are now underway to conserve this species through distribution of seed and cultivation in botanic gardens.
Geography & Distribution
Northwest Madagascar - confined to a small area in Analalava district.
Flowering parts of Tahina spectabilis (Image: John Dransfield)
Tahina spectabilis has a huge trunk, with a swollen base, and a 4 to 10 m high crown comprising about twelve fan-shaped leaves up to 5 m in diameter. Dead leaves are retained below the new growth but eventually fall under their own weight as the tree gets larger. The trunk is covered by ring scars left by the fallen leaves.
When flowering commences, the tip of the stem extends above the dense green crown, expanding into an impressive pyramidal, candelabra-like inflorescence (around 4-5 m in height) which at maturity explodes with a multitude of tiny yellow flowers.
Threats & Conservation
Tahina spectabilis to scale (Image: John Dransfield)
As with all of Madagascar’s wildlife the biggest threat to this palm is likely to be habitat loss. It is particularly vulnerable because it has a very small population size (estimated at 90 individuals) and a restricted range, meaning that even small-scale impacts could be potentially devastating. Since the 1970s, approximately one-third of Madagascar’s primary vegetation has disappeared, mainly as a direct result of fires, logging and clearance of land for agriculture.
Tahina spectabilis seeds have been sent to:
National Tropical Botanical Garden, Kalaheo, Hawai
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Miami, USA
Montgomery Botanical Center, Miami, USA
Honolulu Botanical Gardens, Hawai, USA
Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain, Sydney, Australia
Townsville Palmetum, Townsville, Australia
Durban Botanic Garden, Durban, South Africa
Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore
Kebun Raya Indonesia, Bogor
Jardim Botânico da Universidade de Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal
Palmetum of Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Spain
Uses for Tahina spectabilis are not known. As a rare species, it is likely to be prized as an ornamental.
Propagation of this palm has been achieved by seed-sowing at Kew. Seeds were sown during February, having been soaked in water for 24 hours prior to sowing. The seed compost included Seramis (clay granules) and perlite. Two months after sowing, 80% of the seeds had germinated. The seedlings were potted up individually into ‘long tom’ pots. After three years (in early 2011), the plants were still growing well.
This species at Kew
Tahina spectabilis can be seen growing in the Palm House at Kew.
Read more about the arrival of Tahina spectabilis seeds at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank here
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