The tapia tree is not only a critical player in the ecology of Madagascan woodland, but is also highly valued within Malagasy culture.
The tree plays host to a moth known as landibe (Borocera cajani), which produces silk used in a Malagasy funerary tradition called Famadihana.
As a vital source of income for communities in Madagascar, the tapia tree is highly prized by local communities, and protected through local laws and management of the ecosystem.
Tapia trees are classified as pyrophytes, as they have a thick bark that allows them to survive fires.
Tapia trees tend to grow around 3 to 5m tall, but have been recorded up to 11m. The tough, teardrop-shaped leaves are light green with yellow veins and grow in clusters at the end of the branches. The bark is thick and cracked, similar to an olive tree. Flowers grow in clusters at the end of branches, have five creamy white petals, with a cluster of stamen in the centre. The fruits are green-yellow berries, 2 to 3 cm across, which turn red when ripe and brown when over ripe.
The landibe moth caterpillars that call the tapia tree home are the sole source of a silk used to weave valuable burial shrouds used in a ritual known as Famadihana.
Food and drink
The fallen berries of the tapia tree are collected as a foodstuff.
Materials and fuels
Naturally fallen tapia wood can be used as fire wood, according to local laws.
Tapia wood was previously used to make carts, although less frequently today.
Did you know?
The silk from the tapia-dwelling landibe moth is used to make burial shrouds for use in Famadihana (turning of the bones), a Malagasy ritual in which people exhume the bodies of family members, and re-wrap them, before reburial.
Where in the world?
The central highlands of Madagascar, in vast areas of grassland and shrubs, as well as in small areas of moist evergreen forest.