From: Reuters
Published February 20, 2008 02:39 PM

"Suicide palm tree" seeds arrive in Britain

LONDON (Reuters) - The seeds of the "suicide palm," a newly discovered and extremely rare palm tree, have arrived in Britain for urgent study and conservation, the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew said on Wednesday.

The tree, whose nickname stems from its habit of flowering itself to death once every half century, was discovered only recently on the island of Madagascar.

Only about 100 examples are known to exist of the tree, which grows to more than 18 meters high over a period of 50 years before bursting into bloom just once with hundreds of tiny flowers for pollination and then dying.

About 1,000 of the Tahina spectabilis tree's grape-sized seeds, harvested by local villagers, arrived at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank earlier this week.

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The tree's bizarre lifecycle means opportunities to harvest more seeds are likely to be rare.

"With less than a hundred of these palms in the wild, and the fact that they flower so rarely, the race is on to learn as much as possible, and as quickly as possible, about this spectacular new species," said Moctar Sacande, who heads up Kew's Seed Bank work in Madagascar.

"Not only is our science team at the Seed Bank studying the seeds to assess whether or not we can bank them, but we have also sent seeds to 11 botanical gardens around the world, where we hope the palm will thrive," he added.

Seeds have been sent to gardens in countries including the United States, Spain, Australia, South Africa, Singapore and Indonesia. Palm experts at Kew are also propagating the seeds for research and public display in the Gardens.

The trees were discovered by chance in a remote part of the island by a cashew plantation owner and his family.

Its remoteness explains why it had not previously been noted despite being Madagascar's most massive palm tree, which can even be spotted on Google Earth.

It towers more than fifty feet above the ground and has fan-shaped leaves that, at fifteen feet in diameter, rank among the largest of any flowering plant.

(Reporting by Jeremy Lovell; editing by Jon Boyle)

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