It is closely related to the Manioc, cassava or tapioca plant (Manihot utilissima) which it resembles when young and exhibits a similar tuberous root system.
Apart; plantations of manioc usually surround the villages.
The cultivated products include coffee, the Coco-nut palm, tobacco, sugar-cane, cotton, vanilla, sorghum, earthnuts, sesame, maize, rice, beans, peas, bananas (in large quantities), yams, manioc and hemp. Animal products are ivory, hides, tortoiseshell and pearls.
Amongst the cultivated products are mealies and manioc, the sugar-cane and cotton, coffee and tobacco plants.
Many of the roots and vegetables of Europe have been introduced, as well as some of those peculiar to the tropics, including maize, millet, yams, manioc, dhol, gram, &c. Small quantities of tea, rice and sago, have been grown, as well as many of the spices (cloves, nutmeg, ginger, pepper and allspice),' and also cotton, indigo, betel, camphor, turmeric and vanilla.
They grew bananas, manioc, the sweet potato, the sugarcane, maize, sorghum, rice, millet, eleusine and other fruits and vegetables, as well as tobacco, but the constant state of fear in which they lived, either of their neighbours or of the Arabs, offered small inducement to industry.
The principal economic plants of the country are cacau, coffee, cassava (manioc) called " mandioca " in Brazil, Indian corn, beans, sweet potatoes, taro, sugar-cane, cotton and tobacco.
Other agricultural products are sweet potatoes, cassava (manioc), yuca, yams, white potatoes, maguey, okra, peanuts, pease, all the vegetables of the hot and temperate climates, oranges, lemons, limes, bananas, plantains, figs, grapes, coco-nuts, pine-apples, strawberries, plums, guavas, breadfruit, mangoes and many others.
Among the food-giving plants are rice - the staff of life to the majority of the Malagasy - in many varieties, maize, millet, manioc, yams,;sweet-potatoes, arrowroot, which is largely used by the western tribes - as well as numerous vegetables, many of them of foreign introduction.
The manioc root is also largely consumed, together with several other roots and vegetables; but little animal foods (save fish and freshwater Crustacea) is taken by the mass of the people except at festival times.
Its main features may be summed as follows: - a purely agricultural life, with the plantain, yam and manioc (the last two of American origin) as the staple food; cannibalism common; rectangular houses with ridged roofs; scar-tattooing; clothing of bark-cloth or palm-fibre; occasional chipping or extraction of upper incisors; bows with strings of cane, as the principal weapons, shields of wood or wickerwork; religion, a primitive form of fetishism with the belief that death is due to witchcraft; ordeals, secret societies, the use of masks and anthropomorphic figures, and wooden gongs.