Bismarckia nobilis

mature Bismarck palm


Bismarckia nobilis

Hildebrandt & H.Wenfl. 1881

pronounced: biz-MARK-kee-uh NO-bill-iss

(Arecaceae — the palm family)


common name: Bismarck palm

Bismarckia is named for the first chancellor of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898), and the specific for this, the only species of the genus, is Latin for ‘noble’.

Found only in Madagascar, an island well-known for the rich diversity of its plants, this is one genus of a diverse palm flora of some 170 types of palm, 165 of which are found only on that island. They come from the plains of its central highlands. Much of this area has been cleared for agricultural use by burning, so the fire-resistant Bismarck Palm is one of the most conspicuous features of this arid region.

This is a solitary palm, its trunk grey to tan in colour, showing ringed indentations from old leaf bases. The trunks can grow up to 45 cm in diameter, slightly bulging at the base, and free of leaf bases in all but its youngest parts. It can reach a height of some 18 m, with a spread of 6 m or more.

The huge palmate leaves are a bright silver-blue, waxy, and up to 3 m broad. There is also a green-leafed variety. They are supported on 2 m stems that can be 25 cm in diameter. The leaf bases split where they attach to the trunk, and the leaf stems are armed with short sharp teeth. The palms are dioecious and produce pendant, interfoliar inflorescences of small brown flowers which, in female plants, mature to a brown ovoid drupe.

As the palm grows to such an enormous size, it is not recommended for small gardens. As well as a few specimens dotted around Magnetic Island, there are some large palms of this species in Townsville, especially in Anzac Park. This palm is adaptable to many kinds of soil; it prefers full sun, but will tolerate some shade; once established it is quite drought-tolerant. Seeds germinate quite readily in 6 – 8 weeks.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2009, 2012
Page last updated 20th October 2018