Barbel palm (Acanthophoenix rubra)

Barbel palm
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Barbel palm fact file

Barbel palm description

GenusAcanthophoenix (1)

A large, attractive palm species, younger specimens of the barbel palm can be distinguished by the striking, red leaf sheaves bearing long, sharp spines, found at the top of the trunk. As the plant matures these spines fall away and the sheaves become gradually browner. The leaves of this species are impressively large, reaching up to three metres long, and are composed of numerous pointed, paired leaflets, which project from the bristly leaf midrib. Mature plants have around 10 leaves in total, which radiate from the crown in a spiral arrangement. During flowering the barbel palm develops conspicuous, 50 centimetre-long, inflorescences that hang below the leaves. These comprise a multitude of small, creamy-white flowers suspended from a central stem. The fruits are roundish drupes, up to one centimetre long, which contain a single seed (2).

Palmiste Piquant, Palmiste Rouge.
Height: up to 12 m (2)

Barbel palm biology

A hardy species, the barbel palm is able to withstand the strong winds that occur in the upland regions where it grows, and can tolerate light frosts (2) (3).

The young, newly emerging leaves, together with the succulent part at the top of the stem, are commonly known as palm heart or palm cabbage, and are greatly appreciated as a culinary delicacy. In addition, the roots of the barbel palm are used medicinally as a diuretic (2).


Barbel palm range

The barbel palm is found on the islands of Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues, which are located over 600 miles east of Madagascar (1) (2).


Barbel palm habitat

The barbel palm is found in mixed moist forest as well as heathland, above elevations of 500 metres on Mauritius and growing up to altitudes of 1,500 metres on Réunion (2).


Barbel palm status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered


Barbel palm threats

As a result of uncontrolled harvesting of palm heart, as well as clearance for sugarcane plantations on Réunion, the historically common, wild populations of barbel palm have been reduced to small fragments, which are perilously close to extinction (1) (2). The total wild population is believed to number just 1,300 reproductive individuals, with only 100 existing on Mauritius. The threat to this species is further compounded by the fact that its reproduction success and reestablishment is very poor. The reasons for this are currently unclear, but are likely to be due to consumption of the palm’s fruit and seedlings by introduced animals such as rats and pigs (2) (3).


Barbel palm conservation

In order to help preserve wild populations of barbel palm, the Office National des Forêts on Réunion has undertaken an extensive restoration programme (3). Their efforts may be aided by the recent discovery of a large population of this species on Rodrigues, which has the potential to provide an abundance of plant material to establish new stocks (2) (3).

As a widely cultivated ornamental species, this species is, at the very least, safeguarded from total extinction, and with the help of current and future conservation action its survival in the wild should also be assured (1) (2).


Find out more

To learn more about the work of the Office National des Forêts on Réunion visit:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:


Fleshy fruits with seeds enclosed in a woody covering. Cherries, peaches and plums are all drupes.
The base of a leaf blade or stalk, which encloses the stem.


  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2008)
  2. Grubben, G.J.H. and Denton, O.A. (2004) Plant Resources of Tropical Africa 2: Vegetables. PROTA, Africa. Available at:
  3. Ecoport (March, 2009)****&entityDisplayCategory=full

Image credit

Barbel palm  
Barbel palm

© Steve Stern / Exotic Palms

Steve Stern
25000 S.W.
152nd Avenue
Florida 33032
United States of America
Tel: +1 (305) 246-3125


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