Everything you need to know about caring for your Madagascar palm tree

A potted Madagascar palm
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For lush tropical vibes with a desert twist, the Madagascar palm tree, or the pachypodium lamerei, is the perfect addition to your home. By technicality, this plant is a succulent instead of a true palm, which means that it’s low maintenance in terms of watering and humidity needs. While the Madagascar palm thrives in full sunlight, it’s definitely suitable as an indoor houseplant if you give it adequate lighting. Before bringing this hardy plant into your house, let’s go over everything you need to know about Madagascar palm care.

What to know about the Madagascar palm

As its name suggests, the Madagascar palm is a succulent plant native to southern Madagascar. It features a thick silver stem covered in sharp spines and has long, leathery green leaves that grow on its top. Its trunk can reach up to 6 feet indoors and 20 feet outdoors. When grown outside, the Madagascar palm may also produce white trumpet-like flowers, but it rarely blooms when kept inside. Mature plants tend to branch out after flowering.

Madagascar palm care basics

The Madagascar palm doesn’t require a lot of extensive care. As a succulent, it appreciates full sun, but it can tolerate partial shade outdoors, as well. If you plan to keep your Madagascar palm indoors, make sure that it gets enough sunlight. The prime inside spot for a Madagascar is right next to a south- or west-facing window. Rotate your plant so that it receives sunlight evenly — otherwise, the plant may grow crooked as it reaches for sunlight on one side. 

The Madagascar palm prefers to stay dry, so keep it in a well-draining cactus potting mix inside of a pot with a drainage hole. Water your plant when the soil dries out completely and cut back on watering during the winter to avoid root rot. Keep in mind that your plant will likely go dormant during the winter, so don’t fret if leaves drop in colder months — they should grow back in the springtime! Make sure to place your Madagascar palm tree in an area above 50° F., as it does not tolerate frost. If you live in a cold region, bring your plant indoors if you typically have it outdoors. At the beginning of spring and summer, feed your palm tree diluted liquid houseplant fertilizer to encourage growth.   

Madagascar palm trees in planters
Sarawut Muensang / Shutterstock

How to repot a Madagascar palm

The Madagascar palm tree is a top-heavy plant with a thick stem and relatively small roots. While it’s a slow grower, it can topple over when it gets too big, so repot it around every three years or whenever it outgrows its current container. When picking out a new home for your plant, consider a clay pot, which not only absorbs excess water but also balances a heavy plant better than a plastic planter. 

When transporting your Madagascar palm to a larger pot, be careful with the sharp spines. If your plant is small enough, you can wrap cardstock or newspapers around it and pull it upward by the paper edges. Using thick gloves, however, will give you more control over the plant. You’ll still want to be cautious so that the spines don’t pierce your gloves; when it’s scraped or cut, the plant will release a toxic white sap that irritates the skin. After removing it, place the plant in a slightly bigger pot with cactus soil. When preparing your potting mix, you can add perlite or sand for extra drainage. 

How to propagate a Madagascar palm

There are two main ways to propagate a Madagascar palm tree. You can grow the palm tree from seeds, although this method can be more difficult and time-consuming. Collect cucumber-like seed pods from the upper branches of a mature plant and let the pods dry out for anywhere between a week to a month. Then, cut them open and collect the seeds. Soak the seeds in non-chlorinated water for roughly a day and sow them into cactus soil. It may take several months for a sprout to appear. 

The easiest way to propagate a Madagascar palm tree is to cut a shoot from a mother plant. Use a sterilized knife or pruning shears, and be sure to proceed with caution — our warning about the spines and sap still stands! Let your cutting callus between four to eight days, then place it into soil and wait for new roots to form. 

At the end of the day, treat your Madagascar palm like you would a cactus plant. Give it the opportunity to thrive with bright light and treat its spines with caution. With plenty of sunlight and occasional watering, you’ll have a flourishing Madagascar palm for years to come. 

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