Licuala grandis: Ruffed Fan Palm

This and the following two illustrations show Licuala grandis from New Britain (an island north of New Guinea); Microcoelum martianum, often found in shops under the name of Cocos weddelliana, from tropical Brazil; and Phoenix loureirii (syn. P. roebelenii) whose range extends from Assam to Vietnam.

All three are members of the palm family which includes seven subfamilies, some 220 genera, and approximately 1,300 species. What are the common characteristics of the family as a whole? Palms are generally tall trees with a slender, flexible trunk that may reach a height of 60 m (200 ft). However, they also include tufted forms, such as chamaerops, as well as climbing palms with elongated segments and alternate leaves, such as calamus, the rattan palm and daemonorops, some of which have the longest stems in the plant realm — up to 300 m (960 ft). The tree-like species have trunks composed of short segments and leaves growing in a bunch at the top. The trunks are unbranched, the only exception being the African genus Hyphaene with dichotomously branched trunks.

The characteristic rings on the trunks of palms are leaf scars. In some species these marks are practically invisible and the trunk is almost entirely covered by leaf sheaths or adventitious roots transformed into thick spines. Spines on the trunks, leaf stalks and even flower spathes are not at all uncommon; a striking example is Acrocomia mexicana from the damp lowlands of the Pacific coast. Spines need not serve merely as a form of defence or protection. The thick recurved spines on the leaf stalks of climbing palms help them keep a hold on the trees up which they climb. Sometimes a thorny leaf stalk is elon-gated and extends far beyond the leaf itself.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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