Common Madagascar Palm Problems

My Garden Life
September 7, 2022
Table of Contents
This guide to common Madagascar palm problems will help you troubleshoot why your palm is losing leaves and why the leaves are curling or turning yellow. Once you identify what’s wrong, we have the care tips you need to save your plant.

Why is Your Madagascar Palm Losing Leaves?

madagascar palm problems

One reason Madagascar palm (Pachypodium lamerei) starts losing their leaves is when they go dormant during winter. Triggers for dormancy are cool temperatures that dip below 60 F and lower light exposure. There’s no need for alarm. If your Madagascar palm goes dormant and loses all its leaves, stop watering until spring. For a palm that keeps some of its leaves, water it no more than once per month during winter.

Causes of Madagascar Palm Leaves Turning Yellow

madagascar palm leaves turning yellow
When the leaves on a Madagascar palm turn yellow and fall off, it’s a sign of overwatering or poor-draining soil.

Madagascar Palm Watering

Your watering routine will depend on the amount of light, the type of pot and if your palm is actively growing. A bit of trial and error will help you find out how often to water your Madagascar palm.
When your plant is actively growing, spring through fall, wait to water until the top two inches of soil are dry to the touch. Water a little bit at a time until it trickles from the hole in the bottom of the pot. Then, empty the saucer of excess water.
During winter, Madagascar palms need little to no water until spring. If your palm is in a severe state and the roots are starting to rot, use our tips to rescue an overwatering plant.

How to Improve Soil Drainage of a Succulent Plant

The Madagascar palm is not a true palm. Instead, Madagascar palm is a succulent plant and does best when planted in a good draining cactus or succulent potting mix. Regular potting soil tends to stay wet too long and can cause Madagascar palm rot in the roots and stem. A houseplant can be repotted at any time with these step-by-step instructions.

Reasons for Madagascar Palm Leaves Curling

madagascar palm leaves curling
The main cause of curling leaves on a Madagascar palm grown indoors is underwatering. Another sign you can look for that shows a lack of water is dried brown edges on the leaves. There are two possible actions you can take.
  • The first step is to check if the roots are growing out of the hole in the bottom of the pot or if the roots are growing in circles when you gently slide the root ball out of the pot. In this case, repot your plant into a container that’s two inches larger in diameter than the current pot.
  • If you check the roots and they haven’t outgrown the pot, then you can simply start watering your palm more often. Test the top two inches of soil with your fingertip and water when it’s completely dry. Pour a small amount of water at a time until it trickles from the bottom of the pot. Take care to empty the saucer of excess water.
Watering, sunlight and temperature are the most common problems for Madagascar palms. They aren’t usually affected by insect pests, but it can happen on occasion. Find out about common houseplant pests.
White flies and Mealy bugs on plant leaves


  1. D'Arcy Davis

    My Madagascar palm is losing meddles from the top of the plant . What should it do?

    • My Garden Life

      Hi D’Arcy,
      Some leaf loss is normal as the Madagascar palm plant goes through a dormant period during winter. Dormancy is triggered by cooler temperatures below 60 degrees F and the lower light levels of winter. Since the plant isn’t actively growing you can reduce watering to one thorough watering per month. Increase the watering frequency when the plant starts displaying new growth again.

      • Adrienne Rudd

        My very large madagascar potted outdoor plant has large white spots on the trunk.
        It is an outdoor potted plant in direct sun. It get Florida weather (tampa bay) with much sun rain.

        Is this a fungus and if so what do I use to correct this.

        Thank you,

        • My Garden Life

          Hi Adrienne,
          Some variation in the color of the Madagascar stalk is not unusual and especially the older, lower part of the stem can start to a turn slightly silvery gray color with age. If your plant seems healthy overall, this might be a natural plant process. Otherwise, inspect the stem with a magnifying lens to determine if this might be mealybugs or some other insect infestation. If so, you can wipe the area with a cotton swab and alcohol to remove them (repeat if new infestations appear). If there are insects penetrating the surface tissue (or any type of physical surface damage), this could appear as white spots, as the plant would likely exude a white, latex-like sap in damaged areas. The sap dries and remains as white spots on the areas where damage occurred. Unless the trunk is becoming soft in the area of the spotting, it doesn’t sound like a fungal infection.

          While Madagascar palm can usually tolerate full sun, if you are experiencing extended periods with temperatures 90 degrees F or higher (as so many regions have been this summer), you might want to move your plant to a position where it is protected from the hottest afternoon sun. The combination of heat and sun can stress your plant and leave it more susceptible to pest or disease damage and sunburn. If you do move your plant to a more protected location until temperatures subside, be sure to adjust watering accordingly.

          Another thing that could cause the appearance of “white spotting” are salt accumulations. If you notice white, crusty material around the edge of the pot as well as the base of the plant, it’s possible that soluble salts from hard water or fertilizer are accumulating. If this is the case, you’ll want to thoroughly leach the plant soil 2-3 times a year and make sure you’re not applying more fertilizer than necessary. If there is currently a lot of accumulation, you’ll want to remove your plant, clean up the pot (an old toothbrush works well to scrub salts from pots) and repot with fresh potting mix.

  2. Sarah Reynolds

    Not too sure if my plant is an Elephant Yucca or a Madagascar!
    It has been planted directly into the soil. But the smaller branch has rotted away and it looks as if the main trunk is beginning to rot as well.
    What can you suggest are my best way to go?
    Thank you so much. Please help me.
    Regards Sarah

    • My Garden Life

      Hi Sarah,
      Whether you’re talking about a Dracaena “Madagascar dragon tree” or a Yucca, either produces foliage from a large, main stem. Once rot sets into that main stem it is very difficult to restore the plant. The damaged cells will not recover. If the top of the plant still seems healthy, you could cut the main stem – well above the area of the stem that is infected with rot, and attempt to propagate a new plant.

      Start with a new pot (with a drainage hole) or follow our tips on How to Sterilize & Clean Plant Pots and be sure to use fresh, sterile, commercial potting mix. Since overwatering (or a combination of overwatering and low light) is often the cause of plant rot, we’ve also got some tips on how to manage watering in our article How to Rescue an Overwatered Houseplant.

  3. Paul J Paresi

    Every year, after my 4feet tall, multi-branched Madagascar palm emerges from dormancy, not all of the branches re-sprout leaves. Those barren branches may re-sprout the next year, but then the other branches may not. Any idea why? Would applying gibberellic acid to the tips help?

    • My Garden Life

      Hi Paul,
      Gibberellic acid is used commercially to stimulate the development of foliage and flowers or to break seed dormancy for faster germination. We couldn’t find research specific to Madagascar palms so you will need to decide if you want to experiment on your plant (and spend the money on purchasing GA powder – even small amounts can be pricey). If you are familiar with the use of gibberellic acid, and appropriate mixing and application rates, you might experiment on just one of the stems to see if it stimulates leaf development. Keep in mind, that it’s possible that gibberellic acid might only stimulate stem elongation, without the leaf development you are seeking. If you give this experiment a try, we hope you’ll return to share your results.

      We also couldn’t find specific research that might answer why your plant stems don’t consistently produce leaves. Is your plant in a location where it is receiving full sun? The stems play a role in photosynthesis so periods of shade could reduce leaf/plant development. As always, good nutrition helps any plant grow its best. You could apply a slow-release fertilizer to ensure the plant is well-nourished. It doesn’t sound like the lack of leaves is hurting the plant. From what you describe it sounds like the stems persist year to year whether they have leaves or not, but we can understand why this might be an aesthetic concern especially with a large, landscape plant.

  4. Ryan K.

    Help! My 10 year old Pachypodium has developed two little holes on its stem. They look like bugs ate into it or something. They are dime sized holes with brown margins, large enough to fit a pinky finger in up to half of the first knuckle. But they appear to have dried out and stabilized (i.e. they are not growing, the stem is not soft around the margins). I’m worried as I really like this plant and its been with me a quarter of my life. Any hints on what this might be? And whether it is terminal? I tried to water VERY seldom over winters, and the plant is kept indoors by a window from Oct thru April and put on my front porch for our sunny temperate summers (highs 65°F to 95°F May thru Sept). The holes started as mushy regions with a blister in the middle and gradually progressed to dime size holes. Now they have dried out and just look like knotholes in the tree. It still grows leaves and the rest of the plant appears healthy and verdant. Please help!

    • My Garden Life

      Hi Ryan,
      Sounds like it’s most likely suffered a touch of rot. We couldn’t find any mention of a specific pest of Pachypodium that would cause a hole the size you describe. Pachypodium are typically affected by tiny insects, like spider mites or mealybugs.

      It’s actually not uncommon for Pachypodium plants to suffer areas of rot. So often by the time rot becomes visible it’s too late to do anything about it and whole stems, or even the entire plant, can be lost as a result. So, the good news is, it sounds like your plant has overcome its illness and is well on the road to recovery. Your careful attention to watering probably had a lot to do with this. Your statement that the plant is appearing healthy and growing is evidence that your plant is not terminal. It’s possible some tissue might eventually fill in the holes a bit as the plant grows, but more than likely the scarring will be permanent.

      It sounds like you’re doing all the right things to manage watering and light throughout the year. The fact that you’ve been keeping your plant happy for ten years is proof that you know what you’re doing. The only tip we might suggest is, when it’s approaching time to bring your plant indoors for the winter, perhaps start reducing watering gradually over several weeks before you bring it inside. If you have your plant on a heavier summer watering schedule and then bring it right inside without a transition period, it’s possible that the soil could be too wet. Even if you put it next to a window, a long stretch of cloudy days in combination with the wet soil and the stress of relocation could be enough to encourage rot.

      • Ryan K.

        Well, that sounds like pretty good advice. I was afraid it may have been over-watering rot and you seem to have confirmed that. I had not given it a dry spell before bringing it inside last year. I actually thought “hmm, its going to be thirsty all winter, so I better leave it out for one more good rain” and that probably sealed its fate. If I may ask a follow up, I do have another question.
        For now, it does appear to have survived and the rot stopped at the two little holes (and if there is a facebook group I can join, I can even show photos) But… if on the rare chance it happens again, being the holes are lower on the stem, I have heard you can chop these plants above the rot and potentially get the “healthy part” to take root in good desert soil. Is that true or will cutting the stem fully above the rot just kill it? It seems incredible that a “beheaded” plant can reestablish roots after such an injury, but several people on Youtube claim to have done this… what do you say?

        • My Garden Life

          Hello again Ryan! Yes, apparently you can cut a Madagascar palm stem horizontally into chunks and propagate the segments. Here’s a video link showing a man doing just that. (He’s dipping the cut ends in cinnamon. I don’t speak Spanish but was able to discern this from translating some of the comments.)

          I think this approach would be worth a try if you were attempting to salvage a sick plant or if your plant is simply too large and you have no choice but to reduce it in size. Plants that have rot are a little trickier, though, since there’s no way to know how far the pathogen might have already spread through the plant, even if the tissue appears healthy. Cut pieces may still rot. Did you see the videos posted by Madagascar Madness on YouTube? She also has a FaceBook group where people discuss Madagascar palms. This might be a group for you to consider joining and get input from other enthusiasts.

  5. RW


    I have 2 beautiful mature Madagascar Palms (about 12′ tall). They appear quite healthy – regularly flowering and plenty of healthy leaves. But the trunks of both are losing their spines and bark on 1 side. I am assuming this is due to the very intense afternoon sun (Phoenix AZ) they receive on their West side. On one, damaged bark patch covers 4ft by 6in and reveals the underlying wood. And through gaps in the wood it reveals the hollow core inside the trunk. It’s a large enough space that there are creatures living inside which I’ve only heard scurrying, but most likely lizards, possibly birds or pack rats.

    In any event, I would like to keep these trees healthy. Is this a normal ageing phenomenon for Madagascar palms? Or do I need to do something to repair and protect the trees?


    • My Garden Life

      Hi RW,
      Because of the variety of issues you’re reporting, and the specifics of your local growing region, we’d like to make a couple of suggestions for obtaining the best diagnosis for your Madagascar palm. One is to contact your local University Cooperative Extension Office. For you that would be the University of Arizona (the link will take you directly to the contact page to submit a question). Extension offices have access to experts with more specific plant knowledge and growing conditions within their regions.

      Our other suggestion is to check with local nurseries that grow and sell landscape-sized Madagascar palms. It’s very possible that as growers they are familiar with the problems your trees are experiencing and how to address them. A few we found that seem like good possibilities are: Desert Horizon Nursery, Elgin Nursery and Tree Farm, Moon Valley Nurseries (they have an interactive chat on their website).

      Given the size and age of your plants we appreciate that there is a lot at stake. While it sounds like whatever environmental conditions have led to the damages, your Madagascar palms have managed to heal themselves. However, the introduction of wildlife inhabiting the plant is cause for greater concern as that could create new problems. Our research has not led to any solutions to offer you, so we hope you’ll reach out to your regional experts. If you get answers that might help others with similar problems, we do hope you’ll come back to share!

      • RW

        Thank you for your thoughtful & detailed reply, I’ll look into those options.

  6. Brandi Hyder

    Hello I recently got me a Madagascar palm. It looks like it’s melting from the top. What do I do? Please help

    • My Garden Life

      Hi Brandi,
      It sounds like your Madagascar palm might be having some trouble adjusting to its new environment. Make sure it’s getting bright light, that it’s not getting chilled by being close to an air duct, and that you’re watering only when the top 2” of soil is dry to the touch. If you notice any roots growing out the bottom of the pot, that indicates your plant may be root-bound and needs repotting into a pot an inch or two larger in diameter. When a plant’s root ball gets too large for its pot, the roots get so crowded they start to cut off each other’s circulation and you’ll begin to see problems with the leaves and stem as they aren’t getting the fluids and nourishment they need.

  7. Eileen

    I’ve had my madagascar palm for 6 years and it had beautiful leaves (and blossoms) that came out every Spring until 2 years ago. The past 2 years only the bottom branches produce leaves. It gets plenty of sun in the front of our home. We live in San Diego. Is there anything I can do for it? I hope it isn’t dying.

    • My Garden Life

      Hi Eileen,
      If the top of the plant is still firm and healthy then it doesn’t sound like it’s dying. Madagascar palms do drop leaves during drought or dormancy. Is your plant getting too dry?

      Another thought is whether the light and shadows around the plant have changed a little bit over six years. Perhaps a nearby tree or shrub has grown and is actually now shading just the top of the plant or the plant itself grew to become shadowed by a roof overhang. Final thought, you might want to consult with one of your local nurseries that specializes in large landscape cacti and succulents such as Moon Valley Nurseries or GDNC Cactus & Desert Plant Nursery. So many regions of the country are experiencing extraordinarily different weather patterns the past couple of years. A local expert might be better able to advise on specific environmental conditions that could be affecting your Madagascar palm.

      • Neg1

        Hello. Thanks for your awesome post.
        I have a Madagaskar palm was sent to me from another city. Due to bad packaging and transformation, the roots are hurt on the way. It seems like the roots do not absorb water right now. Please take a look at the pictures.
        i’m worried it could go completely withered soon. I really need to save it. Could you help?
        Here is the photo

        • My Garden Life

          Hi Neg1,
          The blackened foliage on your Madagascar palm can reflect overwatering. Even though your plant has very little root system, it’s important that it doesn’t sit in soggy soil. Without the roots to uptake water, sitting in soggy soil can encourage diseases that cause the stem to rot. Allow the top inch of soil to dry between waterings.

          Another possibility is damage from some type of temperature extreme. We wonder if the plant was subjected to exceptional cold or heat during shipping that might have caused damage to cells throughout the plant? Based on your photos, the main stem and growing tip seem to be doing well, so we don’t think the situation is hopeless. Take care with your watering and make sure the plant is getting plenty of light (at least six hours). Placing it by a window with a southern or western exposure would be ideal.

  8. Thomas Gleeson

    Hi, I live in Palm Springs, CA. This last July we had a very long and hot month. Temperatures were well over 115° for ten to fifteen days, with the hottest days above 122°. My Matagaskar lost all of its leaves, and now the tops of its branches look like they are drying out. Is there anything I can do to try to bring it back to health? Can excessive heat kill the plant? Summers are always hot here, and it has faired well the last ten years….but I am growing concerned this July might have been too much for it.

    • My Garden Life

      Hi Thomas,
      That is a lot of heat for a Madagascar palm to endure and it is possible that damage has resulted. We continue to get reports of once-healthy Madagascar plants in the landscape that are now showing damage in your region and Arizona. While Madagascar palm can usually tolerate full sun, if you are experiencing extended periods with temperatures of 90 degrees F or higher (as so many regions have been this summer), the combination of heat and sun can stress your plant to the point that it is more susceptible to pest or disease damage and sunburn.

      Your plant is ten years old, so that suggests whatever care routine you’ve had in place should be sufficient to allow the plant to try to heal and recover. This is not a time to apply fertilizer. Don’t apply fertilizer unless, and until, the plant is in active growth again. Right now it’s important to be sure it’s getting proper moisture. Allow the top couple of inches of soil around your plant to dry between thorough waterings. If the plant begins to stabilize then you can eventually cut off the dead portions just above the area of healthy tissue. Long term, if these extreme summer weather patterns continue, you may have to consider moving your plant to a position where it is shaded from the hot afternoon sun. Easier to do if your plant is growing in a pot. If your plant is in the ground, and the cycle of extremely hot summers continues in the future, you should consider temporarily setting up a shade cloth over the plant during periods when temperatures are expected to be over 90 degrees F. Do an internet search for “shade cloth net” and you’ll see examples. Because heat is part of the problem, we would recommend using a cloth that isn’t black, as black absorbs more heat.

      The dried out parts of your plants may be a loss, but hopefully most of your plant will heal from the trauma of this past summer.

  9. Linda Hamilton

    My Madagascar palm is soft. Its leaves are green & new ones coming. I know that I haven’t watered it correctly, a little every week/2weeks. I was told that some succulents & cactus will get soft when needing water. Hopefully that true. It’s getting indirect sunlight (facing south) I’m a newbie please help thank you

    • My Garden Life

      Hi Linda,
      A Madagascar palm with a soft stem is more often associated with overwatering, but if it’s soft and wrinkled it may indicate that your plant is getting overly dry. Rather than giving your plant a little water occasionally, you would probably be better off giving it a thorough watering and then don’t water again until the top inch of soil is dry to the touch. Water all around the pot until the water runs out of the bottom of the pot. (If your plant isn’t in a pot with drainage, it would be best to transplant it into one.)

      With a southern light exposure, your Madagascar palm may be requiring more water than you realize. By watering thoroughly and then not watering again until the soil is feeling dry, you should get a better idea of how much water your plant really needs over the course of a week or two. It’s not unusual that a potted succulent plant in good light might need a thorough watering weekly. Once you know how much water is being used/evaporated in a given period of time, you should be able to get your plant on it’s ideal watering schedule.

  10. Chris

    Please help! I purchased a 4-5ft, ~7 year old Madagascar Palm a few weeks ago. It’s in direct sunlight; I live in NJ. I watered it only twice and recently the bottom leaves are drying/falling off and it has knats. I watered it near the trunk only and soil appears to be moist (not wet/not dry). The pot doesn’t have a drainage hole, but if it’s been alive this long without one, I can’t imagine that’s the issue. Would it make sense to attempt reporting a plant this large? Please help!! I’ve looked online and can’t tell what the issue is.

    • My Garden Life

      Hi Chris,
      Despite your Madagascar palm’s large size, it would be a good idea to repot it into a pot with drainage and with fresh, sterile soil to help reduce the fungus gnat problem and to avoid future problems with water accumulating in the bottom of the pot. If the plant has been growing in the same pot for years, it’s also possible that it has become root-bound and needs more space. (See our article on How to Repot a Cactus for tips on handling a spiny plant.) Sooner or later any plant is going to outgrow its pot and the roots will start to get so tight they start cutting off each other’s ability to circulate water and nutrients. Roots will die and the plant will likely go into decline as the smaller root mass resulting from damage won’t be able to support the larger plant mass or new growth.

      A couple of considerations: Madagascar palms do enter a natural period of dormancy and may lose some leaves at this time. To some extent your plant may be responding to the move and new conditions.

      Fungus gnats lay eggs in the soil and the larvae feed on organic matter in the soil (which can include your plant’s roots). Allowing the top two inches of soil to become dry between thorough waterings will help discourage fungus gnats. They thrive in moist soil and since it sounds like you’ve been keeping the soil on the moist side, they’re probably enjoying those conditions. You could consider applying an insecticidal soap to the soil surface to try to eliminate larvae (check the product to make sure it’s safe for use on Madagascar palm) and sticky traps are available that attract the adults and once stuck they are unable to mate and females can’t lay eggs. Also, if the top of the soil is moist, the bottom soil in a pot without drainage is probably wet. An invitation to root rot if this is ongoing.


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