Crown of the ‘Mother of All Baobab Trees’

Nature of Madagascar

Nature surrounds you, though it's rarely untouched.


While from a botanist's point of view the state of Madagascar's flora could seem a bit tragic, to the casual observer there may appear to be no great cause for concern. The island is well covered with vegetation. There are thick forests, extensive grass plains, and palm-tree fringed beaches. Look a bit deeper though and the problems begin to emerge.

Isalo canyon forest

Many of the thick forests are almost exclusively composed of aggressive introduced species like the Australian eucalyptus. Those native forests that still do exist are usually compromised to some extent. Primary native rainforests are rare and fragmentary and increasingly endangered. The extensive grasslands are the products of annual burns and their principal component is another introduced species.

Inland secondary growth rainforest

But despite these and many other qualifications Madagascar is a naturally beautiful country. Many of the country's emblematic plants like the baobab and travellers' palm are still widespread, the later to the point of becoming a weed, and remnants of the island's original forest cover do survive, with some measures being undertaken to protect and extend these remaining areas of ecological significance.

‘Dwarf baobabs’ at Isalo

The best examples of more or less pristine native forests that I observed during my brief sojourn in Madagascar where not in the wet and tropical regions but in the dry southwest. Here large sections of the unique spiny forest have thus far been spared from clearing and can still be found in all their weird yet harmonious diversity.

Southwest spiny forest. Beautifully arranged like a garden

In the rocky hills flanking Lake Tsimanampetsota (sorry, no help with the pronunciation of that one), a slightly wetter climate has produced a spiny forest of stark yet enchanting balance. Shrubs and trees are patterned in a garden-like layout, as if deliberately positioned to achieve the most pleasing visual effect. The area is also abundant in native birds and mammals.

More spiny forest. This time a wall of thorns

Further south, in the flatter plateau country, the spiny forest takes on more of the characteristics of an impenetrable wall. Low, and thorny, and overlooked by bizarre succulents with loping trucks that always lean to the south. The forest here is made all the more unwelcoming by broadening stands of prickly pear cactus, another of the aggressive exotics suffocating Madagascar's native forests.

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