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Products > Operculicarya decaryi
 
Operculicarya decaryi - Elephant Tree
   

 
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Succulent
Family: Anacardiaceae (Sumacs, Cashew)
Origin: Madagascar
Evergreen: Yes
Red/Purple Foliage: Yes
Flower Color: Red
Bloomtime: Winter
Height: 20-30 feet
Width: 4-5 feet
Exposure: Sun or Shade
Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 25-30° F
Operculicarya decaryi (Elephant Tree) - An attractive small tree in the cashew or sumac family, the Anacardiaceae, that has a thick bumpy and twisted trunk, zigzagging branches and alternate odd-pinnate leaves with tiny shiny dark green rounded leaflets, that are often beautifully tinged red in cooler weather. In its native habitat in the Toliara Province of south-west Madagascar this plant is a drought deciduous upright tree to nearly 30 feet tall with a 3 foot wide trunk but more often it is seen in cultivation as a semi-evergreen small tree or even a bonsai specimen with its decorative trunk or even roots exposed in very small containers. Mature plants have small reddish to brown flowers at the tips of the branches in late winter that are not showy with male and female flowers on separate plants (dioecious). Small globular fruit age from yellow-orange to red on female plants - seed is viable only when male and female plants flower together. Plant in full to partial sun in a well-drained soil and water only occasionally in summer months less in winter, a bit more regularly if in a container but even then it requires very little water - what could be better than a drought tolerant container plant! Many report that this is a frost sensitive plant but we had a nice specimen accidentally left outside for the hard frosts of January 2007 with several nights in a row with temperatures down to 25 F so this plant is more hardy than most give it credit for. In cold winters plants will be more or less deciduous but will remain evergreen in warmer locations. Trim out interlocking or twiggy branches to keep plant neat. The plant was first described in 1944 by Joseph Marie Henry Alfred Perrier de la Bāthie (1873-1958), a French botanist who specialized in the plants of Madagascar. The name for the genus is from the Latin word 'operculum' meaning a "small lid" and the Greek word 'karya' for a "nut tree" in reference to the operculate nut-like seeds. The genus has eight species of which seven are endemic to Madagascar with the eighth, O. gummifera, found in Madagascar and on the Comoros Islands. The specific epithet of this species honors the the plant collector Raymond Decary. Other common names include Jabily and Tabihy. In 2010 this plant was proposed as for inclusion as a Appendex II listing of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  This description is based on research and observations of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in our nursery garden and in other gardens that we visit. We also incorporate comments received and appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have any additional information about this plant, particularly if they disagree with what we have written or if they have additional cultural tips that would aid others in growing Operculicarya decaryi.