Flowering in Raphia regalis usually occurs only after a prolonged period of vegetative growth, perhaps lasting years, at the end of which a burst of growth causes the central axis of the palm to elongate to four metres or more in height. This is followed by the development of large, complex, branched inflorescences, which can reach an impressive three metres in length and which, unusually for this genus, are held erect. Raphia regalis is monoecious, meaning that male and female flowers, which are reddish in colour and have a sharp, prickly tip, are borne on the same plant (2) (3). The fruits of this palm are variable in size and shape, but are generally large, up to 9.5 centimetres in length, ovoid with a narrow base, and reddish-brown in colour (2). Each fruit is covered in symmetrical rows of large, shiny, overlapping scales, and contains a curved or spindle-shaped seed (2) (4) (6). Most Raphia palms shed large numbers of seeds, often leading to dense, uniform stands of the same species, although the fruits attract a range of animals which may aid in seed dispersal (2). Like all palms of this group, Raphia regalis flowers only once and then dies (2) (3).
Raphia palms have a wide range of uses, including as building materials, thatch, and in the production of palm wine (3) (7). The leaves are also widely used to extract a fibre known as ‘raffia’, which is used to make baskets, twine and other products, and is exported for use as garden twine and in weaving (3) (6).