Palm (Ravenea musicalis)

GenusRavenea (1)
SizeTrunk height: 2.5 - 8 m (2)

Ravenea musicalis is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Ravenea musicalis, an unusual dioecious palm, is one of only two species in Madagascar to grow in water (3). The trunk is relatively short and swollen, particularly at the base (2). The wood has a cream-coloured appearance and is soft and fibrous (2). Around 14 to 16 arching leaves stretch out from the crown and each support 59 to 63 stiff leaflets on either side of the leaf axis, giving the frond a feather-like appearance (2). The fruits are orange and the single seed within is covered by a hard, black seed coat (2). The species name musicalis was given to this palm by a Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew botanist after he heard the musical sounds of the palm fruits dropping into the river below (4).

Ravenea musicalis is found only in a single river in the far south of Madagascar; as few as 450 individuals are known in the wild (1).

Ravenea musicalis inhabits flowing water, which may vary in depth from 0.5 to 2.5 metres (1) (2).

Ravenea musicalis is one of the few palms in the world known to germinate under water, and is adapted to this unusual habitat (4). The middle layer of the fruit coat is spongy, an adaptation that allows these fruits to float. The seed will germinate within the fruit so that when the fruit splits open (after the slightest bump), it can sink to the river bottom and quickly become established (2). Unusually, the scale-like leaves produced by the seedling are hook-like and it is thought that these assist the seedling in anchoring itself to the river bottom (3).

This palm is only known from a single river and is therefore extremely vulnerable to chance events, such as storms, and to habitat disturbance (2). Local people use the timber from Ravenea musicalis to fashion small canoe-like boats known as 'pirogues' (5). The area near where Ravenea musicalis occurs has been earmarked for large-scale titanium oxide mining; if mining goes ahead, the impact on the ecology of all surrounding areas could be very severe and could affect the survival of this species (4).

Should this unique species be tragically lost from the wild, there are hopes that it will persist in cultivation; Ravenea musicalis seeds have been collected and distributed to botanic gardens in Madagascar and around the world (4). However, Ravenea musicalis has proved to be very difficult to maintain in cultivation (3).

To find out more about what is being done to conserve plants around the world, see:

Authenticated (2/7/03) by Dr. John Dransfield. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2013)
  2. Dransfield, J. and Beentje, H. (1995) The Palms of Madagascar. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, London.
  3. Dransfield, J. (July, 2003) Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Pers. comm.
  4. Dr Henk Beentje (09/2002) Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Pers. comm.
  5. Plant a Palm (September, 2002)