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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Bye, Bye, Palms

Author: Guest Writer/Saturday, October 20, 2012/Categories: Uncategorized

Palms have resonated with people since record keeping began. Religious stories including the plants are often mentioned (palm Sunday, date palms); seafaring voyagers carried palm nuts between islands (coconuts); modern growers maintain huge plantations (oil palms), and famous boulevards in Los Angeles are decorated with the iconic trees (fan palms). Palms produce myriad benefits including essential foods; useful construction materials; beautiful garden elements, and important ecosystem services. They are found in deserts and rainforests, from the temperate zones to the tropics, and on misty mountains the world over. Fossils from Antarctica show palms even grew on the now icy continent during more benign epochs.

Palms are also threatened with extinction. This is especially true on Madagascar. A new report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has determined that 83% of all Madagascar palm species are now on the verge of extinction. Habitat destruction and deforestation is the primary cause. Madagascar is one of the Earth’s biological hotspots with the vast majority of the island’s plant and animal found nowhere else. As Jane Smart, the IUCN’s author, says:

“The figures on Madagascar’s palms are truly terrifying, especially as the loss of palms impacts both the unique biodiversity of the island and its people.The situation cannot be ignored.”

According to Wild, the island is home to as many as 12,000 plant species -- 70-80% of which are endemic -- making it one of the most diverse floras on the planet. From a known palm flora of 170 species, 165 of Madagascar’s palms are found only there. Here are three examples: Bismarck’s Palm ( Bismarckia nobilis ) a monumental species now grown worldwide for its beautiful blue fan-shaped leaves; the Manambe Palm (Dypsis decipiens) a strange bottle shaped species; and the Tahina Palm ( Tahina spectabilis ) only recently discovered which blooms once and then dies.

bismarckia-nobilis.1jpg     dypsis-decipiens     Tahina-palm   

Bismarck’s Palm                       Manambe Palm                       Tahina Palm

(credit: Wiki-commons)            (credit: IUCN)                         (credit: Washington Post)

The actor, Harrison Ford, describes Madagascar biodiversity in a short video produced by Conservation International, an environmental organization that works on the island.

Harrison Ford explains Madagascar Bio-diversity (credit: CI)

Palms predate the dinosaurs. There fossil palm leaves have been uncovered as far back in geologic time to be some of the earliest land plants to evolve. I great deal more will need to be done if these wonderful and important plants are to survive the 21st Century.



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