for National Geographic News
A couple on a casual stroll in Madagascar recently discovered a new gigantic palm that flowers itself to death.
Taller than a six-story building, with a trunk 1.5 feet (0.5 meter) in diameter, it is the most massive palm discovered to date in Madagascar.
After the plant has rocketed to its full height, a vast candelabra-like structure of flowers develops above its leaves, said William Baker, a scientist with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London.
Baker and colleague John Dransfield have studied and cataloged the plant.
"The [structure] produces hundreds of thousands of flowers, which drip with nectar when they are open," he said. "It is truly spectacular."
Once pollinated, each flower turns into a fruit. The palm's nutrient reserves then become depleted, the crown collapses, and the tree dies a prolonged death.
The palm is dubbed Tahina spectabilis—in the local language, Malagasy, tahina means "blessed" or "to be protected." It's the only known palm in a genus new to science, the researchers say.
Their research appears in the January 17 issue of the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.
Xavier and Nathalie Metz, a French couple who run a cashew plantation in remote northwestern Madagascar, first noticed the mystery palm in September 2006 at the foot of a limestone outcrop.
The enormity of the plant and its large flowers at the top caught their eyes. They posted photos of the palm on the International Palm Society bulletin board in December 2006, where Dransfield and his team soon caught wind of the discovery.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES