Bismarckia nobilis Hildebr. & H.Wendl., Bot. Zeitung (Berlin) 39: 94 (1881)

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  • This must be the most common palm in Madagascar. It is a handsome palm, which does well in the drier tropics and subtropics and is planted in many countries. The genus is named for the German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), one of the few cases where botanists have named a species after a politician. When Madagascar was colonized by the French, they included the species in Medemia, thus getting rid of the name Bismarckia, but most botanists (including the present authors) regard the genera as distinct, and therefore Bismarckia is the correct name for the Madagascar palm. (Dransfield, J. & Beentje, H. 1995: The Palms of Madagascar)A


Map uses TDWG level 3 distributions (
Madagascar present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
N and W Madagascar, often the only tree in the landscape; occasionally planted in E Madagascar as well. (Dransfield, J. & Beentje, H. 1995: The Palms of Madagascar)A

Biology And Ecology

  • Plateaux, plains, in all terrains; very common, in large numbers as the only tree on regularly burnt palm grassland on the west coast; rarely mixed with Hyphaene. Sometimes in flooded areas. (Dransfield, J. & Beentje, H. 1995: The Palms of Madagascar)A


  • Not threatened. Widespread and very common. (Dransfield, J. & Beentje, H. 1995: The Palms of Madagascar)A

Common Name

  • Satra, satrabe, satrana, satranabe, satrapotsy (Sakalava). (Dransfield, J. & Beentje, H. 1995: The Palms of Madagascar)A


  • Trunk emptied and flattened for use as planks or in partition walling; leaves used for roofing and basketry; pith serves as a slightly bitter sago. Outside Madagascar a prized ornamental for the drier (sub-) tropics. (Dransfield, J. & Beentje, H. 1995: The Palms of Madagascar)A


  • Palm 2-20 m tall (the 30-50 m mentioned in Stein, 1886 is surely an exaggeration). TRUNK smooth, grey-brown, cylindrical, very straight, 20-40 cm diam., to 80 cm at very base, often marked distally with spiral twists, either clockwise or counterclockwise; internodes c. 1.5 cm; pith abundant, white. LEAVES 13-30 in the crown, porrect to slightly arching, marcescent in immature individuals, neatly abscising under their own weight in mature trunked individuals; sheath c. 80 cm long, pale brown with a white-waxy covering and with scattered laciniate scales, at the interface with the petiole with 2 auricles in the shape of a 90° bend in the sheath edge; petiole 70-250 cm, proximally 12 x 3.5 cm diam., distally 3.5-5.5 x 1.3-2.5 cm diam., abaxially convex, adaxially almost flat to channelled, the surfaces greyish white, densely cov ered in white wax and patches of reddish, fringed caducous scales, with sharp edges or with minute, 1 mm long teeth, grey-waxy; blade c. 1.5 m diameter at greatest width, 50 cm at shortest, blade held mostly flat, grey, yellowish by the hastula, interfold filaments conspicuous, costa 43 cm, segments 50-77, inserted on one side 2-11 cm lower than on the other, the outermost undivided for c. 25-50%, 42-80 x 1.7-3 cm, the innermost undivided for c. 80%, 79-87 x 4.1-6 cm, slightly waxy abaxially with pale grey-brown ramenta on the midrib, transverse veinlets very faint or not visible. STAMINATE INFLORESCENCES branched to 2 orders; bracts 5-6, acute; first order branches 30-35 x 3.5 x 0.5 cm; rachillae digitate, in groups of 1-9 at the end of the branches, crimson, 15-25 cm long, 0.8-1 cm across; floral bracteoles thick, short, wide. STAMINATE FLOWERS with the sepals ovate, acute, c. 3.5 mm long; petals obtuse, c. 7 mm long, connate in the lower half; stamens 7 mm, with long thin filaments; ovary rudiment c. 3.5 mm high. PISTILLATE INFLORESCENCES interfoliar, (x: sight records) erect, c. 120 cm, branched to 2 orders; peduncle c. 30 cm, proximally c. 3.2 x 1.5 cm; prophyll c. 28 cm; peduncular bracts inserted at c. 7 cm, c. 41 cm long (closed for c. 22 cm), inserted at c. 12 cm and c. 50 cm long (closed for c. 29 cm); rachis c. 66 cm; first order branches 36-44 cm long, proximally c. 16 x 8 mm across, distally c. 13 x 4 mm across, straw-yellow, glabrous except for the most distal part bearing some scattered scales, with 2-5 digitately arranged rachillae; rachillar bracts 27-53 cm, cylindrical, open only distally, proximally glabrous, distally with dense or scattered scales; rachillae 15-23 cm long, 1-1.5 cm across; floral bracteoles thick, short, 2-3 mm high, 8-16 mm wide. Pistillate flowers stalked, the pedicel hairy, elongating after anthesis; sepals c. 3 x 3.5 mm, similar to the petals, but more acute; ovary oblong, stigmas quite early in development lateral-basal. FRUIT dark brown, ovoid, obtuse, 40-48 x 30-35 mm, flanked at base by 2 aborted carpels, or occasionally bi- or tri-lobed, with crustaceous pericarp, spongy mesocarp and hard endocarp. SEED 35-38 x 22-24 mm; endosperm homogeneous but penetrated by ridges on the inside of the endocarp. (Dransfield, J. & Beentje, H. 1995: The Palms of Madagascar)A

Materials Examined

  • Mitsinjo: Katsepy, Dec. 1991 (fr.), Beentje 4555 (K, MO, P, TAN). Maintirano: Beravi, at the foot of Beturea/Rano-be between Ansahafi and Ansunaki, Hildebrandt s.n. (Holotype FI). Amboasary Atsimo: Anadabolava, sine die (stam.), Humbert 12458bis (P).
    (Dransfield, J. & Beentje, H. 1995: The Palms of Madagascar)A


    A. Dransfield, J. & Beentje, H. 1995: The Palms of Madagascar
    B. World Checklist of Arecaceae