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ArborealSpecies Plant

Dypsis pinnatifrons

Dypsis pinnatifrons

The Ambolo (Dypsis pinnatifrons Mart., 1838) is an arboreal species belonging to the Arecaceae family.

Systematic –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Division Magnoliophyta,
Class Liliopsida,
Subclass Arecidae,
Order Arecales,
Arecaceae family,
Subfamily Arecoideae,
Tribe Areceae,
Subtribe Dypsidinae,
Genus Dypsis,
Species D. pinnatifrons.
The terms are synonymous:
– Adelodypsis gracilis (Bory ex Mart.) Becc.;
– Adelodypsis sambiranensis (Jum. & H.Perrier) H.P.Guérin;
– Areca gracilis Thouars;
– Areca gracilis Thouars ex Kunth;
– Chrysalidocarpus sambiranensis (Jum. & H.Perrier) Jum.;
– Dypsis gracilis Bory;
– Dypsis gracilis Bory ex Mart.;
– Dypsis gracilis subsp. sambiranensis Jum. & H.Perrier;
– Dypsis gracilis var. sambiranensis Jum. & H.Perrier;
– Dypsis sambiranensis (Jum. & H.Perrier) Jum..

Etymology –
The term Dypsis is not certain and lends itself to various hypotheses; however it could come from ancient Greek and the combination of two words: “dys”, meaning “evil” or “difficult”, and “opsis”, meaning “sight” or “appearance”, for the unusual or strange appearance of palms belonging to this genus.
The specific epithet pinnatifrons comes from the Latin “pinnatus”, meaning pinnate and from “frons, frondis”, meaning frond, in reference to the shape of the leaves.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Dypsis pinnatifrons is a palm endemic to Madagascar, in the area of Tampolo and Masoala, on the east coast.
Its habitat is that of the undergrowth of lowland and submontane rainforest, frequent on gently sloping terrain, found at altitudes from sea level to 1,200 meters.

Description –
Dypsis pinnatifrons is a monoecious, evergreen, single-stemmed, erect, thin palm of green colour, tending to brown with age, 2.5-12 m tall with a diameter of 4.5-15 cm. The stem is marked by light rings corresponding to the fallen leaves, 2-8 cm apart, closer together under the leaf crown.
It has a crown which is composed of 8-16 pinnate and arched leaves up to 2 m long but often smaller, borne by short petioles up to 7 cm long.
The leaves have a characteristic shape, with dark green pinnules, from 20 to 45 on each side of the rachis, they are wide and short and have the margins and tip strongly folded inwards. These are joined at the base in groups of 3-7, spaced apart and arranged like a fan on the rachis, so as to give the leaf a feathered appearance. The new emerging leaves are bright red or pink and turn green after a few days. The petiole ends in a sheath that wraps the stem, whitish green with red or pink shades, 25-48 cm long and swollen at the base.
The inflorescence forms between the leaves; it is shorter than the leaves, and emerges under the sheath. It is branched in 3 or 4 orders and has up to 200 thin, yellowish-green pendant rachillae, which bear small cream-colored flowers collected in triads composed of one female and two male flowers.
The fruits are small, ovoid in shape, 14 mm long and 6.5 mm wide, brown when ripe.
The seeds measure 10×4 mm, with homogeneous endosperm, lateral embryo, near the base.

Cultivation –
Dypsis pinnatifrons is a palm that is harvested in the wild for local use as food and medicine. It is a very attractive palm that is grown as an ornamental.
For its cultivation it is advisable to shade it in the first years of growth so that it can then also be grown in full sun; in fact it prefers shade when young, although it can take full sun when it gets older.
From a pedological point of view it adapts to draining and humid substrates, furthermore it does not like soils with a high pH.
The climate in which it can grow must exceed 0 °C up to 35 °C.
This palm is a highly sought after species in cultivation due to the particular shape of the leaves and the unusual color of the new emerging leaves, red or pink. The commonly cultivated form is adaptable only to tropical and subtropical climates because it cannot tolerate temperatures close to 0 °C, but, given the wide distribution area in Madagascar from the plains to the mountains, the selection of cultivars adaptable to even temperate climates is underway warm.
Given its small size and aesthetic characteristics, it is preferable to grow it in small groups rather than as an isolated specimen.
The plant reproduces by seed, which is kept in water for a few days and then buried in moist, well-drained compost, kept at a temperature of 26-28°C.
It germinates in a period of 1 or 2 months and the first leaflet is bifid.

Customs and Traditions –
Dypsis pinnatifrons is a palm known by various common names, among which are: Ambolo, Hova, Tsingovatrovatra, Ovatsiketry, Tsobolo, Tsingovatra, (Madagascar).
This species is very similar as an adult to the congener Dypsis nodofera from which it is distinguished by the structure of the male flower which has only 3 stamens instead of 6 and by the homogeneous rather than ruminated endosperm.
This palm has become quite widespread in cultivation outside Madagascar. The wide altitudinal and latitudinal range of the species suggests that there may be considerable variability in value for selecting different strains to suit use in gardens of different climates.
The indigenous Malagasy people use the young stems to make blowpipes for their poisoned darts. The vegetative apex and the most tender part of the leaf bases are instead used as food.
The stems are used to make blowpipes, to throw poisoned darts.
From an ecological point of view, this palm is common in every lowland rainforest area of Madagascar. It is estimated that there are more than 2,500 individuals in the 71 locations recorded for this species. The main threat is habitat loss due to shifting agriculture and deforestation. The plant is classified as “Least Concern” in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2011).

Preparation Method –
Dypsis pinnatifrons is a palm which, outside Madagscar, is cultivated mainly for ornamental use.
In its area of origin it is used for both food and medicinal purposes.
For edible use, the cooked leaves are used.
The apical shoot, known as “heart of palm”, is consumed as a vegetable; however, the removal of this shoot leads to the death of the plant because it is unable to produce lateral shoots.
In the medicinal field it is reported that the plant (unspecified parts but probably the bark and/or fruits) is used in the treatment of headaches, jaundice and hepatitis; and also as a breastfeeding aid.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora d’Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

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Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and food uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; we therefore decline any responsibility for their use for healing, aesthetic or food purposes.

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