Dypsis pinnatifrons

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Dypsis (DIP-sis)
pinnatifrons (pihn-nah-TIH-frohnz)
Les Trois-Îlets, Martinique.
Scientific Classification
Genus: Dypsis (DIP-sis)
pinnatifrons (pihn-nah-TIH-frohnz)
None set.
Native Continent
Habit: Solitary
Leaf type: Pinnate
Survivability index
Common names

Habitat and Distribution

Endemic to Madagascar. Widespread throughout all humid forested areas. Lowland and
Tampolo - Masoala - Madagascar (2016) - East Coast of Madagascar. Photo by "Olivier Reilhes".
montane forest, somewhat tolerant of disturbance; to an alt. of 1000 m.


Solitary palm of the forest undergrowth, or middle story. STEMS erect, caducous pale and dark scales; leaflets ± sigmoid, often acuminate 2.5-12 m tall, 4.5-15 cm in diam. at maturity, juvenile stems tending in a long drip tip, 22-46 on each side of the rachis, arranged in to be more slender and stem increasing in diameter with age, distant groups of 2-7, the leaflet bases crowded on the rachis and internodes 2-8 cm, very short near crown in old stems, stem surface usually strongly swollen to form somewhat corky pulvini, the leaflets green and sometimes somewhat mottled when young, becoming fanned within the groups, the proximal leaflet of the group usual- grey-brown and often corky-warted and vertically cracked with age, ly shorter than the distal, distal few leaflets usually almost regularly the nodal scars then becoming obscure. LEAVES about 8-16 in the crown, arranged; proximal leaflets (especially when petiole lacking) very spreading, sometimes with a tendency to be marcescent; crownshaft short and slender, about 7 x 0.5 cm, or longer, mid-leaf leaflets 17-49 well developed, tending to be rather swollen, green, sometimes x 3-7.5 cm, apical leaflets 8-15 x 1-4 cm; emerging leaf often tinged bright pink when young; sheaths 25-48 cm long, 6-18 cm tinged pink, leaflet surfaces glabrous. INFLORESCENCES interfoliar, diam., lacking distinct auricles, flecked with vertical patches of spreading, or somewhat pendulous, shorter than the leaves, about reddish to chocolate-brown scales and patchy white wax; petiole 80-130 cm long, branching to 3-4 orders; peduncle 35-66 cm usually very short or absent, rarely 8-36 cm long, 0.8-3 cm in diam., long, 1.4-3 cm wide at base, ± crescent-shaped in cross section, densely covered with caducous pale and dark scales; rachis 75-220 densely covered with red-brown indumentum when young; pro-cm, to about 3 cm wide at base, usually less, densely covered with phyll inserted about 8-20 cm above the base of the peduncle, 24-47 x 2-4 cm, with scattered dark red-brown scales; peduncular bract inserted 10-12 cm above the prophyll insertion, 19-35 x 2.5-3.5 cm; rachis 40-55 cm, with red-brown indumentum; rachillae very numerous, usually at least 200, somewhat arched or pendulous, 4-45 cm long, slender, glabrous, about 1.5 mm in diam., increasing in diameter with age, triads about 1-3 mm apart. STAMINATE FLOWER about 2 x 1.2 mm; sepals 0.8 x 0.8 mm, ± rounded, irregularly gibbous and keeled; petals 2 x 1 mm, striate; stamens 3, antesepalous, about 1.3 mm long, filaments 0.9 x 0.4 mm, anthers sagittate, 1.0 x 0.7 mm, thecae 1.0 x 0.3 mm; pistillode pyramidal 0.8 x 0.4 mm. PISTILLATE FLOWER globular; sepals very broad, 1 x 1.5 mm, irregularly explanate, striate, with dark tips; petals 2.5 x 2.5 mm, basally imbricate, with triangular valvate tips; staminodes 3-6, irregularly toothlike; ovary about 1.5 mm in diam. FRUIT green at first, ? turning brownish at maturity, 14 x 6.5 mm. SEED 10 x 4 mm; endosperm homogenous; embryo lateral, near the base. (J. Dransfield and H. Beentje. 1995)/Palmweb. Editing by edric.

The typification of the name Dypsis pinnatifrons is most complex and open to several interpretations. According to Beccari (1914), Martius' concept of this palm includes several elements, referable to Phloga polystachya (our D. nodifera), Vonitra thouarsiana (our D. fibrosa) and Dypsis gracilis (see also Dransfield & Moore, 1982) - as Beccari stated -"un grande imbroglio di nomenclatura". Typified on the element Martius noted in passing as Areca gracilis Bory non Roxb., an unpublished name on a herbarium sheet, D. pinnatifrons is the name applicable to the palm described above. Inflorescences of D. pinnatifrons are usually branched to three orders. In some areas, e.g. Marojejy and Nosy Be, individuals with inflorescences branched to four orders are found. These are often very robust palms, almost twice as large as "normal" D. pinnatifrons. Nosy Be is the type locality of D. sambiranensis and all modern collections from the island display inflorescences branched to four orders. However, the type specimen, Perrier 18742, has inflorescences that appear to be branched to three orders only. Where individuals with inflorescences branched to four orders occur together with individuals with inflorescences branched to three orders, as on Marojejy, the two types of palm look distinctly different, and for some time it appeared that we would maintain two taxa. However, apart from the difference in numbers of orders of branching, there are no obvious differences discernible in the herbarium, and furthermore, the previously conceived restriction of these palms with inflorescences branched to four orders to the northern part of the island does not hold true; one collection from Analamazaotra, Perrier 12010, also has inflorescences branched to four orders. We thus feel that it is not possible at present to distinguish two taxa. However, this variation deserves further study in the field. (J. Dransfield and H. Beentje. 1995)/Palmweb.


Prefers shade as a youngster, although it can take full sun as its gets older. Likes the standard moist, but well drained potting mix. Growing Climate: -Temperatures from 0.C to 35.C. Cold Hardiness Zone: m10a

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Comments and Curiosities

This is a handsome palm that has become quite widespread in cultivation outside Madagascar. The great altitudinal and latitudinal range of the species suggests that there may be considerable variability of value for the selection of different strains to suit particular gardening climates. D. pinnatifrons is superficially very similar in habit, inflorescences and, especially, leaf form to D. nodifera. If staminate flowers and/or fruit are available, then there is no difficulty in separating them, for the former has three stamens and a seed with homogenous endosperm while the latter has six stamens and a seed with ruminate endosperm. There do appear to be good differences between the seedlings at about the six-leaf stage, D. pinnatifrons with numerous leaflets that are already clearly grouped and divergent within the groups, each leaflet abruptedly narrowed at its tip and D. nodifera with entire leaves or with parallel-sided leaflets that are not obviously grouped and divergent. This apparent difference needs confirmation. The species epithet, pinnatifrons, meaning pin-nate-leaved, would be appropriate for many a palm in Madagascar but was probably appropriate when it was first published to distinguish the species from the other two species of Dypsis known at that time (D. forficifolia and D. hirtula). (J. Dransfield and H. Beentje. 1995)/Palmweb.

Uses: Stems used for making blowpipes, for poison darts.

D. pinnatifrons is fortunate to be among the most widespread of all Dypsis species, occurring up and down the length of Madagascar, particularly on the eastern side, and in both lowland and montane forest. It is also quite attractive, with slightly sigmoid (S-shaped) leaflets arranged in groups along the rachis. This solitary palm at maturity reaches 8 to 39 ft. in height and 1¾ to 6 in. in diameter. New leaves open red to maroon in color before turning a dark, glossy green. The range of latitudes and altitudes in which D. pinnatifrons is native led Drs. Dransfield and Beentje to conclude that various strains of the species could be selected to suit specific climates in cultivation. However, in southern Florida, the high pH of most soils make this a palm better-suited to container culture. Its IUCN Red List conservation status is Least Concern, with a stable population trend. (fairchildgarden.org)

External Links


Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.

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

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

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).

Dransfield, J. & Beentje, H. 1995. The Palms of Madagascar. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and The International Palm Society.

Many Special Thanks to Ed Vaile for his long hours of tireless editing and numerous contributions.

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