Dypsis in Hawai’i

by Bo-Göran Lundkvist
Leilani Estates, Big Island of Hawai’i

According to The Palms of Madagascar (Dransfield and Beentje 1995), there are 140 different species in the genus Dypsis . The book was published in 1995, and a few more species have been described since. I believe there could easily be another dozen species that are in cultivation, but have not yet been described. In other words, there may be close to 160 different species. I have about half of that number in cultivation here in our garden on the windward side of the island of Hawai'i. Rather than attempting to cover all 80, or so, species, I decided to concentrate on 20 of the more fascinating ones, and to simplify it even further I'm breaking these 20 up in two different groups. Ten species, where the identity (I believe!) is known, in this article, and an additional ten "mystery Dypsis " in a separate article.

Since I began to plant palms here in March 1996, I have planted more Dypsis palms than palms of any other genus. Needless to say, I have lost a few, for a variety of reasons, but the overwhelming number of my Dypsis palms have not only survived, but thrived. Even though we are probably a few degrees cooler, on average, than northern Madagascar, home to most Dypsis , I believe that our environment is very close to that of most of the Dypsis palms. Some are really fast and some are definitely on the slow side, but I have yet to plant a single Dypsis that doesn't seem to be right at home here! Of the ten species covered in this article, I'm close to 100% certain of the identity of six of them, while I believe four still need to be confirmed. The four are identified below.

After considerable consideration, I have decided to use a mix of metric and non-metric measurements (in both articles). Non-metric for general information, and metric for more precise measurements, and for easy comparison with The Palms of Madagascar . Measurements for leaflets (width and length) in both articles refer to the largest leaflets.

Dypsis bejofo: The Palms of Madagascar calls this palm "one of the most impressive palms of Madagascar" (page 146), and I'm sure it is. This is one of the four that I would like to get a confirmation on. It may very well be that the ones I have in the ground are indeed the true D. bejofo , but up to this point they don't quite look like the one on page 146! Now, I have to admit, that's a real tall palm, and none of mine have begun to form a trunk yet, so who knows what can happen! BUT, I have 32 of these in the ground, and every single one displays the same reddish/brownish color on the base and on the new spike, and I don't see that in the photo. I acquired the 32 I have on three different occasions; in 1996, 1998 and in 2001, but based on the size of these plants when I acquired them, I'm fairly confident that they all came from the same seed batch, probably germinated some time in 1994, which would make them all about ten years old. I would consider their growth rate as moderate, and as with many other palms they will produce much more vigorous growth if planted in a generous amount of good soil. Some of my bigger specimens have new spikes that are about 20 feet long. Standing next to one of these monsters, which still does not have a trunk, and looking up towards the new spike is quite impressive. These palms hold about seven "good" fronds at any given time. The petiole is about 80 cm long and there are 110-115 leaflets on each side of the rachis, arranged in two planes, with 2-5 cm intervals between each group of 1-3 leaflet. Each leaflet is 5-6 cm wide and 100-105 cm long. This doesn't seem to quite agree with The Palms of Madagascar which reports 80-100 leaflets on each side of the rachis, arranged in groups of 5-7.

Dypsis carlsmithii : This palm has a fascinating background. Donn Carlsmith planted one of these on his property at Onomea Bay, 4 miles north of Hilo, about 30 years ago, presumably not knowing exactly what kind of palm it was. It grew to become an impressive specimen, and began to produce viable seeds, certainly by the early 1990s, and possibly before that. Jeff Marcus of Floribunda Palms collected seeds on numerous occasions, and sold the palm as Dypsis sp. "stumpy" through his Floribunda Palms. About two years ago, Jeff was instrumental in helping John Dransfield describe the palm,   naming it after Donn Carlsmith. Donn unfortunately passed away in February 2003, a year later. As far as I know, D. carlsmithii has never been found in the wild, so this specimen is the only known one that's producing seeds. I have a number of these palms, and again, I would consider the growth rate as moderate. My tallest one is about 14 feet tall, and it's probably a couple of years away from forming a trunk. The diameter at the base is about 10 inches. It's a very attractive palm with its deeply recurved fronds and light green color. Interestingly, the very first D. carlsmithii that I planted did not come from Floribunda Palms, but from Kapoho Palms. Ken Foster, who passed away in December 2002, ran his own seed business through most of the 1990s, and also collected seeds from the Carlsmith mother plant. In March 1996 I bought five seedlings from Kapoho Palms under the name ' Dypsis prestoniana ', and planted them a few months later. Not knowing what a small D. prestoniana looked like (and I still don't!) I had no reason to question the name. (Ken, after going through The Palms of Madagascar , had concluded, based on his own observations, that the Carlsmith palm was a D. prestoniana ). About four years later, in 2000, it was becoming fairly obvious that this was, in fact, the same palm that Jeff Marcus was selling as "Stumpy". To add to the confusion, I acquired a few more seedlings from Kapoho Palms in 1998 under the name Dypsis sp. #15, and by early 2001 I realized that these were also identical to "Stumpy". Fortunately, by 2002 we had a proper name for this truly unique palm!

Dypsis decipiens : No mysteries here! As we all know, this is an impressive palm. Its home is the Central Plateau of Madagascar, which is I believe is a fairly dry area. Despite this, it grows extremely well here in our rain forest environment. My only problem has been that a few of the D. decipiens that I planted are now shaded out by other much faster growing palms, and D. decipiens is a palm that thrives in full sun. I have planted a group of them in a very open and exposed area, and they are all doing extremely well, but they've only been in the ground for three years, and they were planted from 1 and 3 gallon pots! In other words, they are still fairly small, only about 2-3 feet tall. My tallest one is only about ten feet tall, overall height, and it's been in the ground for eight years! As far as growth rate goes, D. decipiens probably falls a little bit short of being considered 'moderate'!

Dypsis faneva : The only small Dypsis in this article, but a very attractive, clustering, palm. I have about half a dozen, and all were acquired in 1999 and 2000 from Floribunda Palms, all as 1 gallon plants. They are now all about 10-12 feet tall, and most of them are producing viable seeds. This is definitely a fast growing palm. With its colorful speckled stems and crownshafts and fronds that range from almost entire to feather type, there seems to be quite a bit of variability within the species.

Dypsis lanceolata : I acquired a number of these in early 2002, so my experience is fairly limited, but this one is definitely in the "fast" group when it comes to growth rate. Even so, mine are only about 6 feet tall, and they are just beginning to form trunk. This is another clustering palm, with very wide and plumose leaflets and the typical whitish green Dypsis trunk. A beautiful palm and a definite winner!

Dypsis lastelliana : One of my favorite Dypsis ! A more massive palm than the similar looking D. leptocheilos , but also slower growing, even though I would still rate it as 'moderate', once it gets going! As a small plant, it's definitely on the slow side. I have D. lastelliana that only have about 6-7 feet of trunk, but their overall height is 30-35 feet. With its thick trunk, very erect and long fronds this is indeed an impressive palm. One of my bigger specimens, with about 8-9 feet of trunk, is just now beginning to produce its first inflorescences.

Dypsis mananjarensis : Definitely the slowest of all the ten Dypsis species in this article. Seedlings that were planted in 1999 from 4 inch pots are today only about 4 feet tall. These are going to be big palms one day, but I'm not quite sure when that will be! They have fairly wide leaflets, and open up with a red new frond. They only hold about four "good" fronds at any given time. It's much too early to draw any conclusions regarding the correct identity of this palm, but The Palms of Madagascar reports that the leaflets are slightly irregular, in groups of 3-7, in several planes. Up to this point, that doesn't seem to be the case with my small specimens, which all have very regular leaflets in one plane! So this may be something else!

Dypsis nauseosa : This is the third palm that I'm not quite 100% certain of, and a confirmation of its identity would be welcome. Most of the ones I have were acquired under the name Dypsis ceracea (which hasn't been seen in the wild for more than 50 years!), a few were acquired as D. tsaravoasira , and one as Dypsis sp. "bambou"! Most were acquired as small 1 gallon plants, but within a couple of years their similar characteristics became fairly obvious. They have rather wide leaflets and long fronds (but not quite as long as D. lastelliana !). One very interesting aspect is that smaller specimens tend to look somewhat lopsided because each new frond is roughly 50% longer than the previous frond! The two tallest specimens in our garden were planted from 5 gallon pots in November 1997, and today, seven years later they are both about 20-22 feet tall with 2-3 feet of trunk. The crownshaft is very short, and when an old frond falls off, it's surprisingly heavy. New fronds open up with a somewhat pinkish tint, but this doesn't last long. According to The Palms of Madagascar , the trunk of D. ceracea will have a diameter of 8-15 cm, while C. nauseosa will have a diameter of 20-25 cm. My two taller specimens both have a trunk diameter of about 23 cm, which would seem to definitely exclude the D. ceracea. Also, the petiole on my bigger specimens is almost non-existent, and there are about 85 leaflets on each side of the rachis. Each leaflet is 4.5 cm wide and 93 cm long. They are arranged in a regular fashion in one plane with about 3.5 cm intervals between the leaflets. Often, a leaflet will split in the center, almost creating the illusion of two (very close) leaflets. The Palms of Madagascar reports 108-131 leaflets for D. nauseosa . Even though my two biggest specimens have started to form trunk, I'm uncertain of whether they will eventually produce fronds with more than the current 85 leaflets.

Dypsis pembana : I was fortunate to be able to buy a 5 gallon, clustering, D. pembana from Kapoho Kai Nursery in April 1996. Jan Anderson, who owns the nursery, only had two of these, and agreed to sell one of them to me. The palm had five stems, and the tallest one was about ten feet tall. Today, eight years later, it still only has five trunks, but its overall height is about 30 feet, with about 20 feet of trunk. D. pembana has what I consider the "typical Dypsis look" (see D. lanceolata above), similar to D. cabadae as well. While D. cabadae is a relatively slow growing palm, D. pembana is one of the fastest in the genus, and should be used much more in commercial landscaping.

Dypsis tsaravoasira : The fourth palm in this article that I'm not 100% certain of. A number of these were actually sold to me as Ravenea madagascariensis , and some were simply sold as Dypsis sp. I have a large number of D. tsaravoasira , partly by design, and partly by sheer coincidence. I bought most of them from Kapoho Palms and Floribunda Palms, but a number of them came from Ho'owaiwai Farms, which is no longer in business. I bought these in December 2000 for $1 each! They were in 5 gallon pots, and the reason for the give-away price was that they had been neglected for a number of years and definitely did not look good. Furthermore, the identity at that time was also definitely unknown. But now, not quite four years later, these palms are about 18 feet tall with 3-5 feet of trunk, and look absolutely spectacular. My very first D. tsaravoasira came from Floribunda Palms in   January 1997 in a 1 gallon pot, and was planted in July 1997. Now, seven years later, this palm is 22 feet tall, with 6 feet of trunk. This is definitely one of my favorite Dypsis palms, and the reason is its incredible color. When an old frond and crownshaft falls off, it exposes a trunk that is a dramatic and brilliant yellow to orange. This will fade over time, but on some specimens this process (of gradual fading) can take a couple of months, so by the time most of the color is gone, it's time for the palm to shed another frond, and expose its brilliant color again! In addition to this, D. tsaravoasira also has dark green, beautiful recurving fronds. If I could choose only ONE Dypsis to plant, this would probably be it (but that would be one tough decision!!). My D. tsaravoasira have trunks that are about 15 cm in diameter, while the base can be 30-35 cm in diameter. There is no petiole, and each frond holds 110-115 leaflets on each side of the rachis. Each leaflet is 4 cm wide and 90 cm long, and they are arranged in one plane in a regular fashion with 3-5 cm intervals. The crownshaft is 80-90 cm long and the fronds are up to 4 metres long.

In closing, I'd just like to add that I have had numerous pleasant surprises over the last nine years. Even though it's obviously nice to know what you're buying, the element of surprise can be just as appealing, and that certainly seems to be true with the purchase of many Dypsis palms!

Published in Issue 178/Autumn 2004 of The Palm Journal (Palm Society of Southern California's quarterly journal)