Some readers may have taken note that the last few posts I have uploaded have been posts in which I am catching up on my Madagascar trip. That trip is almost a year and a half old now. Work, kids, life, etc., all got in the way of me finishing those posts back then. I can happily state that I have officially completed all the posts that I had planned to write about Madagascar. While finishing up those last posts I thought it would be a great blog entry to do one where I share my most memorable images from Madagascar. Kind of a grand finale, if you will. These images from Madagascar are not necessarily my best or favorite photos. Instead, they were just ones that stood out to me at the time for each area I trekked through.
An unintentional discovery to start my trip off with a bang. There is a rare palm tree that collectors have been keen on for a few years now. That palm goes by the name of Dypsis ‘Black Stem.’ For years people could only see this palm in Madagascar by visiting the Vakona Forest Lodge garden. A year before my trip, some French palm explorers found it in the wild on a hilltop in the Maromizaha Reserve. I was able to confirm Dypsis baronii ‘Black Stem’ could also be found in Mantadia National Park, as I found about 20 plants in a small area just off a trail. The bonus? Some of the seed I brought back from this palm below have germinated and are now growing in my greenhouse.
Palm growers around the world love Dypsis. One of the reasons is the amazing colors they can have. This Dypsis pilulifera had the most intense orange-colored trunk that was glowing in the jungle.
Over the course of a month in Madagascar I would see around 20 different lemur species. One reigns supreme, and that is the Indri Lemur (Indri indri). The Indri Lemur is the largest of all lemurs and can approach 3 feet tall. Its black and white markings with no tail make it easily recognizable. But perhaps it is most famous for its call. Some have compared it to whale songs and it can be can be heard more than 2 miles away. A local guide called out that he found some Indri Lemur. A large group of French tourists went racing by me to get ahead for photos. My guide and I just decided to head on our original path and hope to see the Indri later. Instead, we almost walked right into this one below, who let me approach and get a close photo.
The island of Sainte Marie is where the International Palm Society held its annual board meeting that year. It gave me the best opportunity of the entire trip to get accurate IDs on all the palm trees I would see, as a few Madagascar plant specialists were present. Of all the palms I saw on the island of Sainte Marie, this extremely glaucous Dypsis lutescens stood out. Literally.
Antsirabe (Mount Ibity)
Antsirabe is the second largest city in Madagascar. Not far from the city itself is the protected Mount Ibity which has many unique succulents growing on it, including a few aloes found nowhere else in the world. It was a very long day of hiking, but also one of the days I enjoyed most.
Along the road from Antsirabe to Mount Ibity I saw this massive Dypsis decipiens. Its age and size were amazing, but most impressive to me is how it survived the local people that tend to cut down anything big. A lonely sentinel.
One of my favorite Malagasy aloes has always been Aloe laeta. I just find the color, shape and finely toothed margins to be beautiful. However, Aloe laeta continues to prove very difficult to cultivate in the ground in my garden (and for most Southern California gardens, for that matter). In habitat, most look a little weathered—not surprising considering where they grow. This one I found was almost unblemished in its perfection. Not a large aloe species, this Aloe laeta below was large and approaching 2 feet in diameter.
Ambositra (Antoetra and surrounding area)
Most likely the greatest find of the trip happened in this part of Madagascar. And simply by chance, too. The night prior to the trek we requested that our guide ask around where large palm trees could be found in the jungle. A forty-kilometer drive on a jeep trail took us to the small village of Antoetra. A few miles into the jungle trek we happened upon this massive, unknown Dypsis. I simply called it Dypsis Sp. Antoetra. Just a few moths ago botanists made a visit this palm in habitat, so a name could be forthcoming. To get an accidental jump on botanists was exciting. Especially when you wonder how such a beautiful palm could go hidden for so long. If it could, imagine how many other things have yet to be discovered in Madagascar.
While staying in Ambositra, I did two days of exploring. Antotra was day 1. Areas around the village of Ivato along National Route 7 (RN7) was day 2. It was on private property that I found a grove of Dypsis decipiens. It was in that patch of about 30 Dypsis decipiens I found this red crownshafted Dypsis decipiens. The wonders of Madagascar never cease to amaze.
Ranomafana National Park is made up of 161 square miles of tropical rainforests rich in plants and animals. It would be in this park that I was able to view the most lemur species in one place while in Madagascar. It is also where some of the most beautiful frogs in the world can be found. This Baron’s Painted Mantella looked like something my 8-year-old daughter would have created in a frog coloring book.
I love large Dypsis and in my garden I have planted many species of them. The easiest to grow, but also one of the largest, is Dypsis prestoniana. To actually see it growing in habitat and stand next to it was a thrill. This Dypsis prestoniana in Ranomafana National Park was a bit of a surprise because I didn’t know this species could be found here. This perfect example of Dypsis prestoniana would be the only one I would see in the park.
While using Ranomafana National Park as my base for a few nights, I took a one-day road trip to climb one of the true Noah’s Ark’s of the palm world. Mount Vatovavy is a small, protected mountain that has a few palm trees on it that grow nowhere else in the world. It is also one of the last protected areas for other rare plants. Mount Vatovavy was my favorite trek to see palm trees in Madagascar. So it was very hard to pick out the most memorable images from Madagascar from this part of my trip. However, when I really thought about it, one palm did stand out from the others. The yellow petioles on this super rare and slow-growing Masoala kona were unforgettable.
Ambalavao (Anja Reserve)
Upon leaving Ranomafana National Park, I would exit the rainforest for good. The remaining part of my time in Madagascar would be spent on the high plateau. It was a nice change of pace. Ambalavao would be the first stop and the town I would use to prepare for climbing in the Andringitra Mountains. Just outside of Ambalavao is the small, 74-acre Anja Community Reserve. The Ring-tailed Lemurs make this a very popular stopping spot for the tour buses. Lucky for me, most tourists don’t hike far into the reserve, so my guide and I had the place to ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, seeing the Ring-tailed Lemurs was great. But a plant guy and aloe-lover like myself found this beautifully grown Aloe macroclada just as memorable.
One early morning while climbing a hill to look for aloes, I saw these two boys running towards me. No shoes, running over rocks and plants. Kids are the same everywhere in the world. These kids saw a “Vazaha” (white person in Malagasy) and assumed I would have candy. Behind and barely keeping up was their little sister. When she arrived she had this beautiful, infectious smile. Even more amazing was that this little girl was pretty sick. Her older brother told us she had malaria. Now I’m not sure if that was true or not, but to see this cute little girl and her smile while being so sick really stuck with me. One of the difficult things about traveling is being away from your family. I have young kids and they grow up so fast—I hate missing long periods. This little girl reminded me so much of my own little girl I had waiting for me back at home.
Andringitra National Park has the highest climbable peak in Madagascar – Peak Boby. A week earlier I would be sweating profusely in the heat and humidity while climbing Mount Vatovavy. This week I would end up freezing on Peak Boby while awaiting the sunrise from the top of Madagascar. Not far from the summit I got this photo of the highest growing aloes in Madagascar. Aloe johannis-philippei (bottom plant) and Aloe andringitrensis (top three plants). These two aloes grow nowhere else in Madagascar outside this one small area in Andringitra National Park.
I can’t really put my finger on what draws me to this photo of Kalanchoe integrifolia var. flava. Maybe it was the contrasting colors of flowers and leaves. Perhaps it was the weathered look Andringitra gives plants. What ever it is, it made my most memorable images from Madagascar list.
Easily one of the most vivid memories in Madagascar was looking out over the rocky terrain of Andringitra National Park at dusk to see countless glaucous blue leaves of Ravenea glauca blowing in the wind. The second night of a three-day trek had me camping at the base of all these palms.
Isalo National Park is the most popular park in Madagascar and is famous for its breath-taking landscapes of varying terrain and colorful sandstone formations. A photograph of the blue leaves of majestic Bismarckia nobilis growing at the base of those rainbow sandstone formations had to be included in my memorable images from Madagascar.
In complete contrast were the canyons of Isalo. Lush vegetation and year-round running water versus seasonal grasslands and scattered trees. It was here I was able to see Ravenea glauca growing off the canyon walls. To give you an idea about how tall the canyon walls were, those palms are about 40 feet tall.
Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park and Anakao
The Avenue of the Baobabs at Morondava is one place that I have always wanted to visit. Sadly, I just didn’t have the time this trip. So while I didn’t get to see the largest of all Madagascar’s Baobabs (Adansonia grandidieri), I still had a chance to stand next to Adansonia za while visiting Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park. This tree below was estimated to be over 500 years old! So around the time the Portuguese sea captain Diego Diaz was the first European to see Madagascar in 1500 AD, this tree started growing.
Anakao is a small little fishing village along the southwest of Madagascar. The only way tourists can get there is by boat. There is no power or running water. It was where I spent my last three days in Madagascar. For once I was able to just relax as I made sure no treks were planned. I just had time to rest, reflect, drink beer and lie on the beach. I did do a few small explorations by foot. I found this Hyphaene coriacea growing right in the sand next to a fisherman’s house on the beach.
Ever since I was a child I always wanted to visit Madagascar after reading about it in books. So it was a dream come true to finally set foot on the “Red island.” I have been very fortunate to have traveled to many parts of the world. Madagascar to me ranks at the top. The day I returned home I started working on the wife for a return trip. Just a few weeks ago she gave me the all clear for 4 weeks in 2019. What a woman!