Beccariophoenix alfredii

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Madagascar. Photo by Dr. Mijoro Rakotoarinivo/Palmweb.
(bek-kahr-ee-oh-FEE-niks) alfredii (al-FRED-ee-eye)
Beccariophoenix alfredii 11.JPG
In habitat, Madagascar. Photo by Dr. Mijoro Rakotoarinivo/Palmweb.
Scientific Classification
Genus: Beccariophoenix
Species: alfredii (al-FRED-ee-eye)
None set.
Native Continent
Habit: solitary
Leaf type: pinnate
Height: 10 - 15 meters
Trunk diameter: 28-30 centimeters
Sun exposure: Full sun
Watering: moderate/humid
Soil type: tolerant
Survivability index
Common names
High Plateau Coconut Palm.

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Habitat and distribution

Beccariophoenix alfredii occurs in the High Plateau of Madagascar at approximately 20 degrees south. The palm is found at an elevation of 1,050 meters (3,440 feet) growing along the sandy riverbeds. The surrounding vegetation is mainly composed of various grasses, and the area sees occasional fires. Due to the environment that B. alfredii is subjected to, it is hardy against frost and cold, fire, drought, full sun, and possibly hurricanes.

Endemic to Madagascar. At the moment, the only scientifically proven and recorded locality for B. alfredii is Manalazina. This population is limited to the west by the Mania River. Individuals become abruptly very rare as soon as one approaches the Mania, the river into which the tributary lined with Beccariophoenix flows. Fewer than twenty individuals of B. alfredii grow on the banks of the Mania, possibly because of its depth, which is unfavorable to the dispersal and establishment of seedlings. As we climbed up another mountain chain in the hope of finding other populations in further localities, we saw not one palm on the horizon. Because of the extremely difficult access and the time we had already taken to reach Manalazina, we were unable to conduct further searches for the palm. Meanwhile, we are optimistic concerning the existence of more populations further away in the region. Justin Moat, GIS specialist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, using satellite imagery, has looked for habitats similar to that at Manalazina. After analysing the very distinctive spectrum and relief seen in the satellite images at the exact coordinates of Manalazina, Justin was able to search for similar spectra and relief elsewhere in this part of the plateau. He found similar habitats but much further away from Manalazina. Other populations of B. alfred;i surely exist in the area - during our visit, we did not have the time to revisit Vilanitelo where the palms was first seen by Alfred's collectors, nor Marovato, the site of the large population mentioned by Alfred. (M. Rakotoarinivo, T. Ranarivelo and J. Dransfield. 2007)/Palmweb.

The existence of this population of Beccariophoenix on the western slopes of the High Plateau of Madagascar is quite astonishing. This new species grows in a completely different phytogeographic zone from the humid rain forest zone associated with B. madagascariensis. Manalazina belongs to the zone of the western slope of the Domaine Centrale defined by Humbert (1955). The primary vegetation is formed of sclerophyll forest with Uapaca hoieri and members of 5arcolaenaceae (Humbert & CoursDame 1965), but the current vegetation of the area consists mostly of a scrubby savannah. Furthermore, the climate is very different from that experienced by B. madagascariensis at Mantadia. In fact, B. alfredii experiences a subhumid temperate climate (Cornet 1974), drier than that of the east of Madagascar. The average temperature is 15-20˚C and the rainfall generally less than 1500 mm. The dry season is about five months long. The population of B. alfredii occurs at an average elevation of 1050 m above sea level; above that elevation, the palm becomes very rare, as the depressions between two mountains are too infrequent and where there are such depressions they are usually too dry. The soils in general in the region are ferralitic, but B. alfredii seems to grow solely on sandy soils on the banks of tributaries of the Mania River. Beccariophoenix alfred;; is the dominant species in the gallery forest and, reaching mostly 10-15 m, constitutes the only canopy species. The species grows so abundantly in the area that we estimated at least 500 mature individuals at this locality. In contrast, regenerating individuals are few. The dominance of this species may be due to the fallen leaves and inflorescences that carpet the ground, completely eliminating any other woody plants. Moreover, seed dispersal seems to be mostly by water. The flattened shape of the fruits allows them to be dispersed easily by water until they are deposited in a site favorable for germination. Sometimes seedlings are found actually growing in water but they mostly ocrur along the river bank. Perhaps this explains why the adult palms are restricted to a band along all the valleys. (M. Rakotoarinivo, T. Ranarivelo and J. Dransfield. 2007)/Palmweb.


Beccariophoenix alfredii, also known as the High Plateau Coconut Palm, is a recently discovered species of Arecaceae (palms), endemic to Madagascar. It is in the genus Beccariophoenix, and is closely related to the genus Cocos. Beccariophoenix alfredii is very similar in appearance to the coconut palm, although somewhat cold hardy, making it a good look-alike for the coconut in cooler climates. They are hardy down to about 25°F (-3°C) when young, and likely colder when more mature.

Taxonomy: Beccariophoenix is placed in the subfamily Arecoideae and the tribe Cocoeae. The species was first noted in 2002, when Alfred Razafindratsira noticed a picture of a Beccariophoenix species in photographs taken of the vegetation surrounding Andrembesoa (originally taken in search of a species of Pachypodium in the rocky escarpments to the southwest of Antsirabe). Alfred found this odd, considering this area of Madagascar is far from the other localities of Beccariophoenix and is, furthermore, ecologically totally different from the east coast and littoral forests where the other Beccariophoenix species are known to occur. In May 2004, an expedition was set off into the High Plateau of Madagascar, to confirm the existence of this species. On the fourth day of the expedition, the new population of Beccariophoenix was found. This species is noted for having oblate (flattened spheroid) rather than ovoid fruit, infrafoliar inflorescence (rather than interfoliar), a peduncle not exceeding 13 cm long (rather than one up to 120 cm long), a 3–5 mm thick leathery peduncular bract which rolls up on when itself when abscised (rather than a heavily lignified peduncular bract 30–40 mm thick, which does not deform when abscised) and 15 stamens (rather than 18-21). For these differences, Beccariophoenix alfredii was classified as a new species. Beccariophoenix alfredii grows up to 50 feet (15 meters) in height with a trunk up to 1 foot (30 cm) in diameter.

Robust, solitary, pleonanthic, monoecious, palm. Stem erect, to about 15 m tall, 28-30 cm in diam. at breast height, graybrown, eventually becoming bare and closely ringed with leaf scars, internodes about 2.5 em. Leaves 30-36 in the crown, pinnate, marcescent in juvenile palms, abscising neatly in adults; sheath tubular at first, to at least 82 cm long, with two lateral, ± entire, triangular lobes to 30 cm long, 10 cm wide at the base, tapering to about 8 cm, the abaxial surface of the sheath covered with thick caducous gray-brown indumentum, the body of the sheath disintegrating into a mass of robust sinuous gray fibers about 3 mm wide, adaxially the sheath glabrous, reddish-brown; petiole very short, about 4-5 cm long, to 8 x 2.3 cm wide and deep, with scattered caducous scales; rachis to at least 4.4 m long, to 7 x 2.3 cm wide and deep at the base, tapering gradually distally, adaxially ridged near the base, abaxially rounded, distally with 2 lateral grooves; leaflets about 120 on each side of the rachis, ± regularly arranged, very slender and crowded at the base, ± rigid or somewhat pendulous, about 47 x 1 cm at the base of the leaf, about 112 x 4 cm in mid leaf, about 65 x 1.8 cm at the tip, ± acute, easily splitting and becoming bifid, adaxially glabrous, abaxially lacking powdery white wax, transverse veinlets short, conspicuos, minute punctiform scales present on longitudinal veins. Inflorescences solitary, infrafoliar, branching to 1 order; peduncle moderate, 8--13 cm long, elliptic in cross-section, 4 x 1.7 cm, with caducous gray-brown indumentum, ± glabrescent in infructescence; prophyll not seen, presumably inserted at the base of the peduncle and included within the leaf sheaths; peduncular bract inserted at the apex of the peduncle, woody, with solid beak, the whole to 90 cm long, 3-5 cm thick, abaxially with conspicuous longitudinal grooves, at anthesis the peduncular bract splitting longitudinally and circumscissile at the insertion, leaving a collar like scar, the bract curling up on drying after abscission, adaxially the bract smooth, shiny, yellowish green abaxially tomentose and longitudinally shallowly grooved; rachis very short, to 8--9 cm long, to about 4 x 2 cm in diam., tapering to about 0.7 cm at the tip, bearing about 30-50 crowded, spirally arranged rachillae, each subtended by a short, triangular, acuminate, coriaceous bract 1.1-7.5 x 1.0-2.8 cm; rachillae glabrous and lacking white wax, yellowish, becoming crimson in ripe fruit, straight, rigid, held at a narrow acute angle to the rachis, 45-66 mm long, about 5-8 mm in diam. at the base, tapering distally, each with a poorly defined swelling at the very base, proximally with a bare portion 15-18 mm long, distally bearing distichous triads in the proximal 13-19 mm, paired staminate flowers in the middle 11-17 mm and solitary staminate flowers in the distal 13-18 mm, rachilla bracts triangular 1-4 x 1-6 mm; floral bracteoles well developed, broad, rounded, striate, rather coriaceous, shorter than the rachilla bracts. Staminate flowers narrow ellipsoid, about 13 x 4 mm; sepals to 2 x 2 mm, joined in the basal 1 mm, distally triangular, free and imbricate, glabrous, not striate; petals coriaceous, about 12 x 3 mm, tapering to a short acute tip, basally very briefly joined, abaxial surface glabrous, lacking white wax, obscurely striate; stamens 15, filaments 2 mm, anthers elongate 8 x I mm, erect, ± basifixed; pistiIJode absent. Pollen not studied. Pistillate flowers in bud, irregularly globose to obscurely angled, 9 x 6 mm, perianths persistent and enlarging in fruit; sepals broadly imbricate, 8-9 x 5-6 mm; petals 8 x 7 mm, broadly imbricate with short valvate tips; staminodal ring membranous, about 1 mm high; gynoecium ellipsoid, 6 x 4 mm, stigmas pyramidal in bud, 2 mm high. Fnlit I-seeded, oblate, 16 x 24 mm, with a short triangular beak to 3 mm long, 4 mm wide at the base, dark purplish-black at maturity, smooth, becoming striate when dry, surface glabrous except the beak where minutely and obscurely scaly; mesocarp thin, fleshy 1 mm thick, with longitudinal fibers, endocarp 15 x 22 mm, very thin, scarcely lignified, pores rather obscure, just below the equator. Seed oblate 13 x 20 mm, attached near the base with a broad hilum, with numerous anastomosing raphe branches, endosperm deeply ruminate; embryo lateral below the equator. Germination: adjacent-ligular; eophyll entire, lanceolate. (M. Rakotoarinivo, T. Ranarivelo and J. Dransfield. 2007)/Palmweb.

It could be asked why we consider this palm to be a new species of Beccariophoenix when B. madagascariensis is itself variable. Dransfield (2202) reported what was known of this variation and highlighted the presence of two distinct seedling morphologies of the palm in cultivation. One type of Beccariophoenix has juvenile leaves with a broad terminal pair of multifold segments displaying many windows. In contrast the second type of Beccariophoenix has narrow terminal segments composed of few folds and with one or two windows only. After some research in the field and discussion with seed importers and growers we can say that the population of Beccariophoenix from the lowiands near to Brickaviile (the Ranomafana Est population, currently known with certainly from a single adult tree and, about twenty km away, a few more) produces seedlings with many windows. The population from the general area of Mantadia near the type locality of B. madagascariensis and the population at Sainte Luce produce seedlings with few windows. Beccariophoenix alfredU has seedlings with narrow terminal segments and few windows. The habitat of the popuiation at Sainte Luce at near sea level might be thought of as being 72 very different from that of the montane ridgetops at almost 1000 m in Mantadia, but there are in fact considerable resemblances in vegetation - both areas support generally rather small-leaved dicotyledonous trees, growing on humus rich soils overlying extremely nutrient-poor sand or quartzite. The main difference between the Mantadia and Sainte Luce populations is in the length of the peduncle - always elongate at Mantadia, sometimes elongate, sometimes very short at Sainte Luce (incidentally, the one tree at Ranomafana Est is remarkable for it extremely short peduncles. The most striking differences are in the size and form of the inflorescence and fruit. Comparison between Beccariophoenix madagascariensis and B. alfredii. Beccariophoenix madagascariellsis: inflorescence interfoliar. Peduncle to 120 em long. Peduncular bract heavily lignified, 30-40 mm thick, not deforming when abscising. Stamens 18-21. Fruits ovoid. Beccariophoenix alfredii: Inflorescence infrafoliar. Peduncle not exceeding about 13 cm long. Peduncular bract leathery, 3-5 mm thick, rolling up on itself when abscising. Stamens 15. Fruits oblate. (M. Rakotoarinivo, T. Ranarivelo and J. Dransfield. 2007)/Palmweb. Editing by edic.


Due to its overall hardiness, B. alfredii is a good candidate for cultivation in central and southern Florida, California and also locations such as Sydney Australia, Southern Spain, Portugal and Northern New Zealand. It is best grown in sandy loam soils, but is suitable to many other soil types. Besides B. alfredii, there are 2 other species of Beccariophoenix: B. madagascariensis, and Beccariophoenix sp. Windows. Beccariophoenix sp. Windows was known for its moderate growth speed, high nutrient requirements and cold sensitivity. Beccariophoenix madagascariensis was known for its cold hardiness and lack of nutritional problems, but had about one-fourth the growth rate of Beccariophoenix sp. Windows. Both species look remarkably similar to the coconut palm when mature, but with a much broader trunk. Beccariophoenix alfredii seems to combine the good characteristics of both, with the growth rate of Beccariophoenix sp. Windows and the cold hardiness and lack of nutritional problems of B. madagascariensis, but B. alfredii has a slimmer trunk, more like that of the coconut palm. All species appear resistant to lethal yellowing, so may be suitable for areas that have a high instance of the disease. Although relatively new to cultivation, B. alfredii is already becoming popular to palm collectors, and is being called the California Coconut of the future. It can be expected that after it is less new to cultivation, it may become extremely popular worldwide due to its coconut look-alike status, good growth rate, and cold hardiness. Although the trunk normally grows straight, it may develop a curve similar to that of the coconut palm if planted on its side when a few years old.

Comments and Curiosities

Beccariophoenix alfredii exhibits some window panes in the fronds as a juvenile, although not as many as the window pane version of Beccariophoenix. As a seedling, Beccariophoenix alfredii takes quite a long time to go from monofid leaves to bifid leaves, to bifid leaves with minimal windows to fully pinnate leaves, which is quite different than the "no windows" Beccariophoenix madagascariensis, which undergoes these changes relatively quickly. Therefore, although seedlings of Beccariophoenix alfredii exhibit some similarities to Beccariophoenix madagascariensis, it is quite distinct. Due to the recent discovery of Beccariophoenix alfredii, growth speeds aren't entirely known, but a few things can be gathered from the time it has been known. In tropical and subtropical climates, such as Hawaii or Florida, Beccariophoenix alfredii may be the fastest of the 3 species, but for Mediterranean climates, Beccariophoenix seems to only be marginally faster in growth than the "no windows" Beccariophoenix madagascariensis. These are just educated guesses however, and more time needs to be permitted to allow proper scrutinization on growth rate. Another curiosity is development of "twins" within a single seed. Both seeds can germinate, resulting in a double germinated seed. So far, this appears to be relatively common, but it isn't known whether or not the trait can be inherited.

Windows in Juvenile palms: The photos below, are showing 'windows' in alfredii seedlings. These will be watched as new leaves are produced.

External links


Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.

Special thanks to Geoff Stein, (Palmbob) for his hundreds of photos, edric.

Special thanks to, Dr. John Dransfield, Dr. Bill Baker & team, for their volumes of information and photos, edric.

Glossary of Palm Terms; Based on the glossary in Dransfield, J., N.W. Uhl, C.B. Asmussen-Lange, W.J. Baker, M.M. Harley & C.E. Lewis. 2008. Genera Palmarum - Evolution and Classification of the Palms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. All images copyright of the artists and photographers (see images for credits).

Rakotoarinivo, M. , Ranarivelo, T. & Dransfield, J. 2007. A new species of Beccariophenix from the High Plateau of Madagascar. Palms 51(2) 63-75.

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