International Palm Society LogoChrysalidocarpus decipiens

Excerpt reprinted with permission from the July 1994 issue of Principes Vol 38, No 3,
Journal of the International Palm Society

© 1994 The International Palm Society, all rights reserved

HENK BEENTJE AND JOHN DRANSFIELD

Herbarium, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Richmond, Surrey, 7-W9 3AE, UK

Readers of the bulletin of the Southern California Chapter of the International Palm Society, the Palm Journal, will be well aware of the horticultural interest in Chrysalidocarpus decipiens Beccari. C. decipiens is one of the grandest palms there is. Native to the central plateau of Madagascar, it is now rare in the wild and, perhaps surprisingly, it has only relatively recently become widespread in cultivation outside Madagascar. In fact we know of no mature adult palms in cultivation outside its native country.

Early Confusion

The name Chrysalidocarpus decipiens was established by Beccari in 1906, based on specimens collected by the English missionary, the Reverend Baron (after whom Neodypsis baronii is named), from "Central Madagascar" (probably Andrangolaoka, east of Antananarivo) and by the German plant collector, Hildebrandt (after whom Dypsis hildebrandtii is named), from Ankafina forest near Fianarantsoa, in the southern plateau area. At this time (1906) the fruit was still unknown. Eight years later, in 1914, more specimens had been collected, notably by the French collector Perrier de la Bāthie, and Beccari could amplify his description of C. decipiens when he wrote his monumental work "Palme del Madagascar." Unfortunately he mixed two palms in his description -- true C. decipiens, including some fruiting material, and Neodypsis basilongus of Jumelle and Perrier, a more coastal species with ruminate endosperm that was held to be typical for Neodypsis.

Since the resulting "species" combined characters from two genera, Beccari felt it necessary to establish a new genus Macrophloga. The resulting species, Macrophloga decipiens (Beccari) Beccari existed for eight years, until Jumelle sorted out the confusion and put all the constituent parts back in their proper species.

However, this is not the end of the story. During our research on the palms of Madagascar over the past eight years, it has become increasingly apparent that the major differences between groups of species that allow us to define and maintain genera as distinct from each other just do not exist in the group of palms, the Dypsidinae, to which Chrysalidocarpus belongs. A wealth of new species and complete material of many of the previously described species have provided the evidence that has forced us to regard all members of the Dypsidinae as belonging to a single large and very varied genus Dypsis. The extremes of this genus are very distinct but they are connected to each other by series of intermediates that have completely blurred any previously conceived boundaries. The dreaded name changes that will ensue have not yet been formalized so we can continue in the mean time to use the name Chrysalidocarpus decipiens. Our complete findings will be published as a book on the palms of Madagascar, we hope in 1995.

C. decipiens in Cultivation

Within Madagascar, this wonderful squat "bottle" palm, Chrysalidocarpus decipiens, is grown in gardens on the plateau, but only rather rarely. There are fine examples in the Parc de Tzimbazaza in the center of the capital, Antananarivo, as illustrated in Nancy Edmonson's article in the May 1993 issue of the Palm Journal, and a few young individuals in gardens on the road between the airport at Ivato and the capital. South of Tana, in the nearby town of Ambatolampy there are some really splendid old trees along the roadside near the town center. When one sees mature trees of C. decipiens, one wonders why so few people grow them. Who needs Hyophorbe when there is such a fine alternative? There is another feature of the palm that should particularly excite palm growers in the cooler tropics and subtropics and of which growers in southern California are already aware. Chrysalidocarpus decipiens is a palm of the high plateau of Madagascar, an area that is relatively cool and, at times, quite dry. Here is a palm that...

This excerpt is approximately half of the article that originally appeared in the July 1994 issue of Principes.  Several photos in black and white accompany the article.  Back issues are available through our online shopping cart while supplies last. 

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