Family: Anacardiaceae
Habitat: Madagascar
Cultivation: Easy. A well-drained soil, a bright spot and warm temperatures are essential to make your Operculicarya thrive.
Curiosity: Operculicaryas are mainly sought after for their attitude to make perfect cute bonsais. However, they have also several traditional uses: medicinal uses to aid human parturition, ropes are made using the bark, and the trunk interior is traditionally used for mummification!


Operculicarya (also Operculicaria) is a plant genus in the family Anacardiaceae. They are small dioecious pachycaul trees native to Madagascar. They mainly grow in dry, rocky areas or in xerophyte thickets and forests. “Xerophyte” is a botanical term to define plants provided with several evolutionary mechanism to survive to arid conditions. Also Operculicaryas can be considered xerophytic plants.

Operculicaryas are in fact bushes or trees, caudiciform plants. A caudiciform plant is a plant equipped with a caudex. A caudex is an evolutionary device typical of semi-arid areas and used as a stock for nutrients and water to face harsh conditions of dry environments. In general, the roots of Operculicaryas are thick and fleshy.

Operculicaryas are deciduous trees, similar to dwarf baobabs, with a maximum height, in their natural habitat, of 5 to 15 (exceptionally) meters. They are usually very slow growing.

Their stems are usually bottle-shaped or somehow lumpy and globose or conical, depending on the species. In O. decaryi, it can reach a diameter of 1 meter. Another typical feature of this genus is the bark, usually grey and irregularly bumpy. Also, in many species the form of the branches is also interesting: in O. decaryi, for example, they are umbrella-shaped, facing upwards, like an umbrella turned upside down.

Their leaves are usually compound: this means that a leaf is subdivided into many leaflets that share the same stalk. In O. decaryi, leaflets are rounded and bright green. In general, all Operculicaryas have usually these kind of leaves, with some differences in the presence or absence of hairs and in the shape of the leaflets, which can be more or less rounded, ovale or pointed.

Operculicaryas are usually sought after for the fashinating oddity of their stem and because they are perfect as bonsais. Their flowers, instead, are inconspicuous and usually very small, not so flashy despite their dark, intense red.

Their fruits are pulpy and contain a hard, dry seeds. They are usually sprout by animals, that eat them and then expel the seeds through the dejections.

The most popular species is undoubtely O. decaryi, the Jabily or”elephant tree”.


Here below are the 8 accepted species of Operculicarya:

  • O. borealis
  • O. calcicola
  • O. capuronii
  • O. decaryi
  • O. hirsutissima
  • O. hyphaenoides
  • O. multijuga
  • O. pachypus

Check our online shop to find them!


Operculicarya are not tough plants to grow, both indoors and outdoors. Here are our cultivation tips:

  • Exposure to full sun is strongly recommended.
  • Operculicaryas can’t stand freezing. In areas with cold Winters, they will behave as deciduous plants but, instead, in warmer places they’ll remain evergreen. Actually, the required temperatures of these plants range from 10 to 18ºC in Winter and from 15 to 45ºC in Summer. These are thus warm-loving plants: put them indoors to stay safe.
  • Watering should be regular and abundant (at least every three days) during the growing season and completely suspended during their dormancy period: you’ll see when the plant exits dormancy, as it will start to put on new twigs. Also, if your Operculicarya behaves as a deciduous plant, you’ll understand when to stop watering simpy by noticing when the plant looses its leaves. However, if you keep the plant indoors, it’s better to wait always until the soil is completely dry before each watering, as the air inside a house is always more moist and with less air movements, so it can be more subsceptible to root rot.
  • Choose a well-draining soil, avoiding peat and instead using pumice or perlite to enhance drainage. At least 50% of the material of the substrate should be inorganic. Adding sand is also a good solution.

Propagation of Operculicaryas can be carried out either through seeds and cuttings. Seeds should be immersed in water for 24 hours before sowing. They will germinate along a period of 6 months. Plants grown from seed show more efficient roots and maintain certain appreciated features such as the lumpy bark. Another propagation method is to use the tubers.

Official Web Site:

Italian Blog:

Recent Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search