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Bismarckia is a monotypic genus of flowering plant in the palm family endemic to western and northern Madagascar where they grow in open grassland. The genus is named for the first chancellor of the German Empire Otto von Bismarck and the epithet for its only species, Bismarckia nobilis, comes from Latin for 'noble'.
Bismarckia nobilis grows from solitary trunks, gray to tan in color, which show ringed indentations from old leaf bases. Trunks are 30 to 45 cm in diameter, slightly bulging at the base, and free of leaf bases in all but its youngest parts. In their natural habitat they can reach above 25 meters in height but usually get no taller than 12 m in cultivation. The nearly rounded leaves are enormous in maturity, over 3 m wide, and are divided to a third its length into 20 or more stiff, once-folded segments, themselves split on the ends. The leaves are induplicate and costapalmate, producing a wedge-shaped hastula where the blade and petiole meet. Petioles are 2–3 m, slightly armed, and are covered in a white wax as well as cinnamon-colored caducous scales; the nearly-spherical leaf crown is 7.5 m wide and 6 m tall. Most cultivated Bismarckias feature silver-blue foliage although a green leaf variety exists (which is less hardy to cold). These palms are dioecious and produce pendent, interfoliar inflorescences of small brown flowers which, in female plants, mature to a brown ovoid drupe, each containing a single seed.
Distribution and habitat
Found only in Madagascar, an island well known for its rich diversity of unique taxa, Bismarckia is one genus among a diverse palm flora (some 170 palms of which 165 are solely in Madagascar). They grow in the plains of the central highlands, nearly reaching the western and northern coasts, in savannas of low grass, usually in lateritic soil. As much of this land has been cleared with fire for agricultural use, Bismarckias, along with other fire-resistant trees like Ravenala madagascariensis and Uapaca bojeri, are the most conspicuous components of this arid region.
Bismarck palms are grown throughout the tropics, subtropics and favor temperate microclimates. They are planted quite widely in many parts of the world such Florida, southern California and parts of Arizona U.S., Indonesia and Australia. Bismarck palms will suffer from cold damage but they quickly recover. The green variety is more cold sensitive than is the silver-gray variety. The green ones are damaged at 32 °F (0°), but the silver-gray ones will tolerate 28 °F (-3 °C) and will recover from 23 °F (-6 °C). While they tolerate some drought, they thrive in areas with adequate rainfall. Because of their massive crowns, they need plenty of room in a landscape area.
- Hildebrant and H.A. Wendland, Botanische Zeitung 39:90, 93. 1881. Type:B. nobilis
- Riffle, Robert L. and Craft, Paul (2003) An Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms. Portland: Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-558-6 / ISBN 978-0-88192-558-6 (Page 274)
- "Flora in Madagascar".
- "Ecoregions of Madagascar". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.