After an amazing visit in the Mantadia National Park the day prior, I awoke early to the sounds of the Common Brown Lemur (Eulemur fulvus) walking outside my bungalow at the Hotel Mikado. What a great way to start my Maromizaha Reserve adventure.
I had arrived at the Hotel Mikado at night, so I didn’t see this Dypsis ‘Black Stem’ out my front door. It was funny seeing this palm so many times around Andasibe when you consider how rare it was thought to be. This was a precursor to the many beauties I would see in the Maromizaha Reserve.
My entire day three in Andasibe would be spent at the seldom visited Maromizaha Reserve. Maromizaha is a 3- square-mile ecoreserve only 8km east of Andasibe down RN2. The Maromizaha Reserve is managed by GERP (Study and Research Group on Primates of Madagascar) and most of the reserve is not currently open to the public. Apparently, much is only accessible to researchers. Well, that is in theory anyway, and this is Madagascar after all. Me? I simply showed up with my local guide Ranaivomanana (who appears to know everyone around Andasibe), paid the park entrance fee and hired a guide that works for GERP. I believe Ranaivomanana informed the reserve official that I was with the International Palm Society. Maybe that helped?
My time at the Maromizaha Reserve would be broken up into two treks. The first was the ecotourism part of the reserve that is open for anyone to trek. You can tell from the control shack, this entrance to the Maromizaha Reserve does not get many visitors. When I asked the reserve official pictured below how often tourists visit, he told me it had been a few weeks since the last group.
The first trek was a rather short hike with a slight elevation gain for the first two miles. This was a point-to-point trek, not an out and back like the second hike I would do at the Maromizaha Reserve.
It takes about a mile of walking through invasive secondary forest before you get to the old-growth forest that once dominated Andasibe but has since been broken into numerous isolated areas. As I reached the actual rainforest, the first palm I saw was this nice metallic-leafed Dypsis jumelleana.
Along the trail I also found this unknown Dypsis with a metallic sheen to the leaves. This plant reminded me of a palm in cultivation sold by Floribunda as Dypsis ovobontsira ‘Metallic Leaf.’ I once asked one of the foremost palm botanists what causes this metallic sheen on some palms. He didn’t know.
The seemingly always present Dypsis nodifera.
Ravenea madagascariensis is a common sight around Andasibe.
Dypsis ‘Black Stem’ was the highlight of this first trek and the reason I chose to do both hikes. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see such a legendary palm in habitat. The specimens at the Maromizaha Reserve were exceptional.
This is how the colorful variety of Dypsis baronii got the moniker ‘Black Stem.’ It was not due to the dark petioles like shown above, but rather the black coloration of internodes on the trunk shown below.
Almost every flower spathe I saw on Dypsis ‘Black Stem’ while in Andasibe was dark red, but a few at the top of the summit had yellow spathes.
At the overlook you could find many Dypsis ‘Black Stem’ growing in full sun.
The view from the overlook was incredible. The haze is smoke from slash-and-burn agriculture. A common sight in Madagascar during October.
This Medinilla sp. enjoys the full sun and was getting ready to flower. Quite a few of these shrubs could be found at the overlook.
On the way back down from the overlook I snapped this photo of a section of trail in the old-growth forest. It shows how beautiful untouched forest can be. The second photo shows the trail only a mile away where secondary forest has grown in the reserve. Ugly and invasive plants smother the competition, making it impossible for the forest to return to its old rainforest self.
Dypsis fibrosa in the secondary forest at the bottom of the hill.
How old do you think these Dracaena are? Thankfully, they were spared during the slash-and-burn. I am guessing these Dracaena have to be at least 100 years old.
As I approach the local village you can see just how threatened the forests are—even in a protected reserve like Maromizaha. This clearing wasn’t that old. I would imagine that when I return in 3-4 years the picture will show no forest. It is happening that fast in Madagascar.
Even though it appears to be a losing battle due to the current political climate in Madagascar, many organizations are putting up a fight and doing what they can to protect remaining old-world forest. Below is a Peace Corps project. They are teaching the local villagers how to cultivate and maintain sustainable crops. The reality is there is no reason to burn the forest. I still can’t figure out why such a hardworking people, like most Malagasies are, turn to laziness when it comes to agriculture. It is easier for them to chop down and burn the old forest than to do the same in the invasive secondary growth that follows. It can be maddening to an outsider like me to see forest on fire when expansive chunks of land burnt years prior are not reused.
This traditional village marks the end of the first hike. I would meet my driver and head back to eat in Andasibe before returning and starting the much harder second hike.
The second hike into the Maromizaha Reserve was longer and much more challenging, as you can see from the graph below.
This entrance to the Maromizaha Reserve was a little more fancy.
It is close to a 2.5-mile walk to get to the Multipurpose Center Maromizaha Forest shelter. This shelter acts as an onsite headquarters for multiple organizations and the many researchers doing field work.
Just past the Multipurpose Center Maromizaha Forest shelter, you’ll find as close to untouched forest as you could possibly find around Andasibe. Without a guide keenly familiar with the area, you won’t track down what you go looking for. With great luck I was able to hire a guide familiar with the palm trees I came to see. While showing my local Andasibe guide Ranaivomanana a photo of some palm trees I wanted to visit in the reserve, he recognized one of the Maromizaha Reserve guides in the photo and found him while I was at lunch. Below, you can see that there is very little path and in many cases we just walked our own route to get to palms.
As I mentioned, this part of the Maromizaha Reserve is under the control of research organizations. We found a few of their wildlife camera traps set up along worn paths. I was told this one was placed to document the Fossa.
The first palms we would see in this part of the reserve were Beccariophoenix madagascariensis. Under the forest canopy they are litter-trapping palms. They accumulate so much leaf litter that roots of other plants grow into their crown and form a dense mat. I was warned not to pull the matting away by the local guide, as small scorpions live in there.
I only saw juvenile Beccariophoenix madagascariensis around Andasibe. It can be expected, as adults are chopped down by locals for various uses. Sadly, it will take decades for the juveniles to grow into flowering adults. I asked my local Maromizaha Reserve guide if there were any trunking Beccariophoenix madagascariensis found in the reserve. Apparently there are, but he said it is an all-day roundtrip trek to see them. They are deep into the jungle.
Even as a juvenile, Beccariophoenix madagascariensis was the giant I expected it to be.
This was some attractive, unknown Dypsis.
This was a massive unknown Ravenea species that I still can’t identify.
It was a lot of work to reach this palm pictured below, but it was well worth the effort. I wouldn’t see another palm like it the rest of my trip. The closest palm growing around Andasibe that it resembles is Dypsis pilulifera. The solid green petioles, smooth yellow emerging spear, and dark green irregular leaflets make this palm unique.
This attractive palm is the northern form of Marojejya insignis. I would see the southern form not too far from Mount Vatovavy. While two locales look different, botanists have confirmed by flower that they are the same species.
You can easily identify Marojejya insignis from other palms around Andasibe by the brown tomentum on the petiole and fused lower leaflets.
An unknown flowering Medinilla species.
What trek through the jungle would be complete without a lemur and chameleon sighting? I happened to catch these Diademed Sifakas (Propithecus diadema) during their play time. One of the prettier of all lemurs in Madagascar.
Some of the more interesting creatures I saw included this Weevil Beetle (Lixus Barbiger).
A huge Giant Pill Millipede.
This is a shell from a dead snail just to show you how big snails can get in Madagascar.
Chameleons have had millions of years of evolution to help them master camouflage. Finding them in the forest is usually just luck. I was ecstatic to finally see a Parson’s Chameleon (Calumma parson) in habitat. Such an amazing lizard.
I didn’t get back to the truck until after dark. I was exhausted and in bed by 8 PM. My accommodations for the night would be the third place I stayed in three nights at Andasibe. Make reservations before arriving at Andasibe, as it is a popular destination for tourists. It was the only area in all of Madagascar where I really should have booked my hotel in advance.
The Marie Lodge offered a clean bungalow, great restaurant, and fast WiFi. The three together were an anomaly for Madagascar.