Discovered: A suicidal tree

The new palm species | Image: National Geographic How’s this for a life: do pretty much nothing but grow (to 66 feet tall) for 100 years, then all of a sudden produce so many offspring that you kill yourself in the process.

Well that’s exactly what a new species of palm discovered in Madagascar does. In those hundred years of growth, it not only reaches an immense height, but also gets a trunk 1.5 feet in diameter and leaves 16 feet long. It then develops a multitude of beautiful white flowers, which are pollinated by insects to produce seeds, so that the next generation of the species, Tahina spectabilis, can be created.

The problem is that it uses so much energy producing those flowers that it dies, meaning that to carry on the genetic line, each tree must live for 100 years without being cut down or diseased, which is a pretty hard feat to accomplish. That probably explains why scientists believe only around 100 of these trees exist.

Several other plants take reproduction the same way as the new palm – plants in areas with extremely little rainfall, for example, will be basically dormant for years, even decades, then as soon as they detect water, they will have a burst of growth, flower, produce seeds, and then die as soon as the water dries up again.

Home of 12,000 species of plant found nowhere else in the world, Madagascar is a haven for biodiversity.

It’s a nifty way of reproduction for desert plants, but why does the Madagascan tree do it? The true answer is that we really don’t know. Perhaps as more species like this are discovered, we will learn more about their fascinating lives.

Who’d have thought plants could be so interesting!

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One Response

  1. If you ever want to read a reader’s feedback 🙂 , I rate this post for 4/5. Detailed info, but I just have to go to that damn msn to find the missed bits. Thanks, anyway!

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