From World Science:
Death by flowers: giant, suicidal palm has botanists stumped
Jan. 16, 2008
World Science staff
A bizarre discovery has botanists puzzled: a new species of enormous palm tree that flowers itself to death.
Although it’s not the first type of plant or tree known to do this, it’s mystifying researchers for several reasons. One question is how such huge trees went unnoticed before; another is how they evolved and got to Madagascar, where they grow.
Not closely related to other known palms, especially there, the tree grows some six stories tall before sprouting hundreds of succulent flowers, researchers said in an announcement of the find. These drain its nutrients, they added, leading it to collapse in a “macabre” demise.
But the tiny flowers, which can also develop into fruit, attract swarms of pollinating insects and birds that help ensure a next generation can live.
The self-immolating plant, given the scientific name Tahina spectabilis, is described in a paper published Jan. 17 in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. The biggest palm known in Madagascar, researchers said, its fan-leaves alone span more than half the width of a tennis court.
As the scientists told it, Xavier Metz, a Frenchman who manages a cashew plantation in remote northwestern Madagascar, and his family were strolling nearby when they stumbled across the palm with its massive, pyramidal bunch of flowers at the tip. Their photos soon reached botanist John Dransfield, honorary research fellow of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, U.K.
“I could hardly believe my eyes,” Dransfield said. It looked “superficially like the talipot palm of Sri Lanka, but that had never been recorded for Madagascar. Clearly this was going to be an extremely exciting discovery.”
He determined the immense plant was not only a new species but a new genus, the broader category that can contain one or more species. The palm does have an “affinity” with palms of an even wider category, a “tribe” known as Chuniophoeniceae, Dransfield added.
This tribe “has an extraordinary distribution,” and it’s hard “to explain how it could ever have reached Madagascar,” said Dransfield. Other members of the tribe grow in Arabia, Thailand and China.
October 2012. Eighty three percent of Madagascar’s palms are threatened with extinction, putting the livelihoods of local people at risk – according to the latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The update brings the total number of species listed on The IUCN Red List to 65,518, of which 20,219 are threatened with extinction: here.
Madagascar’s tortoises are crawling toward extinction, groups say: here.
- Most of Madagascar’s Palm Trees Near Extinction (livescience.com)
- Madagascar palms ‘are dying out’ (bbc.co.uk)
- MADAGASCAR: Possible palm extinction threatens livelihoods (irinnews.org)
- 83% Madagascar’s Palms Near Extinction (naturalhistorywanderings.com)
- Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign – Palms (jaysnaps.wordpress.com)
- Saving the Top 100 Threatened Species – a Question of Valuing Life (ipsnews.net)
- WILDLIFE UPDATE : Primates in peril – conservationists reveal the world’s 25 most endangered (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)