Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ravenala madagascariensis

Ravenala madagascariensis, commonly known as Traveller’s Palm, is originated from Madagascar.  Despite its name, it is not a true palm ( Areacaceae ), but a member of the bird-of-paradise family ( Strelitziaceae ).  R. madagascariensis is the sole member of the genus Ravenala.

It is called Traveller’s Palm because the sheaths of the stems holds rainwater, which supposedly could be drink for needy travelers.   However, the fact is, the water trapped inside the sheaths is murky, black, smelly, and infested with mosquito larvae, and should not be consumed without prior purification and boiling.  Another possible reason for its name is that the fan tends to grow in a north-south orientation, providing a crude compass.  This is also not true as intensive observations on wild trees refuted the claim.



R. madagascariensis has enormous paddle-shaped leaves, resembling those of banana, borne on long petioles.  The leaves are aligned in a single plane, resulting in a fan-shape appearance.    

Flowers are pale-yellow in colour, similar to those of Strelitzia’s, but less showy and certainly less attractive.   Bracts are light green in colour.   The flowers when dried, attached to the bunch with the purplish fruit, which are similar to those of banana’s.

Traveller’s Palm can grow up to 16m in height.  Stems are simple, solitary, hardy and fibrous, up to 1” in diameter, in reminisce to a coconut’s stem.  As the tree grows, the dried older leaves at the bottom detached from the stem, similar to coconut’s.

Young plants emerged from the ground by the base of mother plant, a vegetative reproduction via suckling.  

Ruffed lemurs ( Lemur varius ),  are know to be the sole pollinator of Ravenala.  They have thought to have coevolved.


Ravenala madagascariensis is widely planted as ornamental tree.  Young, smaller plantlet can be trained as indoor plants.   It can tolerate most soil condition with good drainage.  It thrives best under full sun.   Care is minimal, as and when necessary to remove old fronds from the trunk.   The plant wilts after flowering. 


At least 4 different forms of Ravenala madagascariensis have been distinguished : malama, hiranirana, bemavo, and horonorona. 






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