After a full day of touring the Analamazaotra and Mitsinjo Reserves the day prior, and a good night’s rest at the Vakona Forest Lodge, I was ready to visit the much larger Mantadia National Park. Mantadia National Park and the Analamazaotra Reserve were once one large entity many years ago. Sadly, private logging and slash-and-burn agriculture have since divided the two. The 45-minute drive from the Vakona Forest Lodge to the park entrance gives you plenty of opportunity to see the level of deforestation still going on. This includes the Mantadia National Park as well.
Thanks to a beat-up dirt road and more than a few difficult treks, the number of tourist that visit Mantadia National Park is quite small compared to the busier reserves around Andasibe. You can’t get a tour bus to the park entrance. Selfishly, I find that a good thing.
Mantadia National Park is a 60-square-mile protected area that offers a much wider variety of options for trekking circuits than do the Analamazaotra or Mitsinjo Reserves. The shorter routes will take you only a few hours to finish. You can also hike a master route that would cover all the trails and would take most hikers an entire day.
Anicet, my driver for the month (left), and my local guide Ranaivomanana (right) pose in front of the starting point of the route I chose. I was told the longer “Circuit Trekking” had the most palms trees, hence my choice.
The Circuit Trek has some elevation gain to it, with most happening right at the beginning, as you can see from my Strava data below. The trails here were not as wide or well maintained as the ones I hiked in the Analamazaotra and Mitsinjo Reserves, which was perfectly fine by me.
After a mile and 500 feet of elevation gain, you arrive at the first rest stop. The view from this small peak is spectacular and you get a good idea just how large the Mantadia National Park really is. While resting, off in the distance you could hear the calling of the Indri Lemur.
I still had a ways to go, but not far after passing this sign I ran into one of the biggest surprises on my entire trip through Madagascar.
Around 1,900 meters into the hike you will find this beauty if you have a good eye. This is Dypsis ‘Black Stem.’
This was a very exciting find because the Dypsis ‘Black Stem’ that are cultivated at the Vakona Forest Lodge are quite famous palm trees to collectors around the world. While I know many hikers have passed these palms doing this trek, I doubt many were palm collectors and most likely had no idea what they were looking at. There has been a question amongst collectors as to where those cultivated palms came from at the Vakona Lodge. Most figured, correctly, that they had to come from the surrounding rainforest; the issue was that no one has documented Dypsis ‘Black Stem’ in habitat at Mantadia National Park before. Thanks to prior documentation of this palm in habitat at the Maromizaha Reserve, I knew that I would see it the following day. Seeing it in situ on this hike was a huge surprise. Especially considering the Maromizaha Reserve is some distance away from this locale.
While hiking the Circuit Trek , I would only find Dypsis ‘Black Stem’ in one area. It was not widespread, being found for about 200 meters of the total 5.5-mile trek.
By looking closely at flowers, botanists have confirmed that the palm collectors call Dypsis ‘Black Stem’ is really just a beautiful form of Dypsis baronii—a widespread and variable palm found throughout most rainforests in Madagascar.
Along with a few old adults, I found a lot of juvenile plants growing not far off the path. Below you can see another unique characteristic of this beautiful form of Dypsis baronii—the snow-white emerging spear on juvenile plants.
The towering juvenile leaves of Ravenea robustior are a staple around Andasibe. Without scale it is hard to comprehend, but these leaves below can reach 30 feet in height.
The 18-55 mm travel lens I brought with me made it difficult to get a good photograph of this marvelous Ravenea robustior.
Ravenea madagascariensis was another abundant palm found throughout Mantadia National Park.
A confusing palm to botanists is Ravenea latisecta—a palm only described from Andasibe. Part of the problem is that recently no palm botanists have put the time into studying this species. They believe the population has not been located in the wild since 1992. Having seen Ravenea madagascariensis around Andasibe and comparing it to the wide leaves of the palm pictured below makes me believe the photo is that of Ravenea latisecta. This palm was much larger than Ravenea madagascariensis of the same age, and the leaflets appeared to be twice as wide. It is a very attractive Ravenea.
After a steep decent down the hill as we make our way to the “Chute Sacree,” we saw our first Dypsis utilis. This species is a true water-loving palm and won’t be found growing far from a permanent water source like the creek in the photo below.
Dypsis utilis is very similar to another Vonitra palm also found growing around Andasibe—Dypsis fibrosa. Dypsis utilis is a larger palm, and without a flower couldn’t be identified from Dypsis fibrosa past its size. Both are known for their dichotomous branching.
I found two very unique and attractive Dypsis growing on the hike. The first was what I can only guess was Dypsis pilulifera. It was unlike any of the Dypsis pilulifera I would find through the various treks I made in the Andasibe region, however.
I found this same exact palm shown below growing in the Analamazaotra Reserve. The colorful petioles are a dead give away. It feels closely related to Dypsis ‘Orange Crush,’ but for now will just have to be labeled an unknown. I am pretty sure it is the same palm sold in cultivation as Dypsis malcomberi by a local Southern California nursery, JD Andersen’s. Sadly, I couldn’t find any adult specimens of this palm in habitat.
Dypsis louvelii was one of the more attractive understory palms I would see around Andasibe.
The average annual precipitation of 67 inches, which falls 210 days a year, makes Andasibe-Mantadia National Park a rainforest.
Pandanus both large and small were a common sight.
An unknown tree fern (Cyathea).
This small Bird’s Nest Fern was one of my favorite anthirums. I only saw it a few times during my trip but enjoyed its thick, coarse leaves when I did.
In a jungle full of green, this unknown flowering vine stood out.
Madagascar has so many amazing orchids. Unfortunately I was visiting at the wrong time of year to see them in flower.
While I heard the Indri Lemur’s call, I unfortunately never saw any lemurs on this trek. I did see a few interesting animals like this colorful Lined Day Gecko (Phelsuma lineata).
This is a Giant Pill Millipede (Globotherium neptunium). It is hard to tell from the picture, but it is at least five times bigger than our local Roly Polies.
The main landscape attraction that draws people to trek in Mantadia National Park is the “Chute Sacree.” “Sacred Fall,” as it is called in English, served as our lunch stop for the day. Most times this is a crowded location and you can usually find tourists swimming in the refreshingly cool water. That day my guide and I had the place to ourselves. In fact, we had the whole national park to ourselves. We never saw another tourist the entire day. How many people that visit Mantadia National Park can say that?
Ana Bowers says
Amazing photos and documentary! Thanks so much for making this available to us, Len.
Len Geiger says
Thanks Ana. Photography is certainly work in progress. You have it down. By the way, congrats on your FB page. That thing has taken off!
To address the disappearing habitat threat, reserves have been created in the vicinity of Andasibe-Mantadia that balance resource extraction with environmental protection, and attempt to create economic and environmentally preferable alternatives to replacing native forests with eucalyptus and pine.
Christophe Quénel says
The picture “mantadia-national-park-unknown-flowering-vine” is Strongylodon madagascariensis