Here is a droopy palm tree at sunset at an intersection here in Houston.
“It’s spectacular,” said Mijoro Rakotoarinivo of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Madagascar. “It does not flower for maybe 100 years and can be mistaken for other types of palm. But then a large shoot grows out of the top and starts to spread, a bit like a Christmas tree.” Those branches then become covered in hundreds of tiny white flowers that ooze with nectar, attracting insects and birds.
But the effort of flowering and fruiting depletes the tree so much, said John Dransfield, a botanist and the author of the study, that within a few months it collapses and dies. The palm tree, which grows to 66 feet, is found only in a remote region in the northwest of the country. Puzzling Mr. Dransfield is how botanists had missed such a ”whopping palm” until now, adding that there appear to be only about 100 in existence. He suggests that the tree has been quietly living and dramatically dying in Madagascar for 80 million years.”
The Malagasy are thought to be descendants of Africans and Indonesians who settled on the island more than 2,000 years ago. Malagasy pay a lot of attention to their dead and spend much effort on ancestral tombs, which are opened from time to time so the remains can be carried in procession, before being rewrapped in fresh shrouds.
After sometimes harsh French colonial rule, which included the bloody suppression of an uprising in 1947, Madagascar gained independence in 1960. The military seized power in the early 1970s with the aim of achieving a socialist paradise.
This did not materialise. The economy went into decline and by 1982 the authorities were forced to adopt a structural adjustment programme imposed by the International Monetary Fund.
The World Bank has estimated that 70% of Malagasy live on less than $1 per day. Poverty and the competition for agricultural land have put pressure on the island’s dwindling forests, home to much of Madagascar’s unique wildlife and key to its emerging tourist industry.
The island has strong ties with France as well as economic and cultural links with French-speaking West Africa.
Some more facts about Madagascar—
Full name: Republic of Madagascar
Population: 17.2 million (via UN, 2006)
Area: 587,041 sq km (226,658 sq miles)
Major languages: Malagasy (official), French
Major religions: Indigenous beliefs, Christianity
Life expectancy: 54 years (men), 57 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: Ariary
Main exports: Vanilla, coffee, seafood, cloves, petroleum products, chromium, fabrics
GNI per capita: US $290 (World Bank, 2006)
Here is a sunset photo of the capital city of Antananarivo—