Thief palm (Phoenicophorium borsigianum)

Thief palm in habitat
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Thief palm fact file

Thief palm description

GenusPhoenicophorium (1)

This palm is a fairly tall, solitary tree, with long leaves extending from the trunk. The stems are heavily ringed with leaf scars, formed by the loss of leaves, and bear black spines on younger plants (2). The leaves can reach up to two metres in length; they have a crinkled appearance due to the prominent veins (2), and are split at the ends with orange-edged serrations (3). The leaf stalks themselves may be up to half a metre long and are also armed with black spines (2). Both male and female flowers are borne on the same tree on an inflorescence that emerges below the crown (2). Small, oval fruits develop, which are orange in colour and may be up to 1.5 cm long (3). A palm growing in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 1857 was stolen, giving rise to the common name of 'thief palm' (2).

Height: up to 15 m (2)
Leaf length: up to 2 m (2)

Thief palm biology

The leaves of the thief palm provide shelter for geckos and invertebrates as the pleated surface acts as an effective litter trap thus providing cover for small animals (2). Locals use the large, dried leaves for thatching (2).


Thief palm range

Endemic to the Seychelles, this palm is fairly widespread on the larger islands of the group, such as Mahé, Silhouette, Praslin, and La Digue (3).


Thief palm habitat

The thief palm is found in forests but will also colonise exposed, eroded land, as it is capable of withstanding full sunlight and periods of drought (2).


Thief palm status

The thief palm is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Thief palm threats

This palm is adaptable and is able to colonise disturbed habitat; however, some populations may be threatened by fire (on Praslin), development, or invasive species. The harvesting of leaves is generally carried out in a semi-sustainable manner although local over-exploitation may occur (4).


Thief palm conservation

Significant populations are protected in the Morne Seychellois National Park, and the Praslin National Park. The Silhouette Conservation Project of the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles (5) manages the substantial population on Silhouette where this species is used in active habitat restoration programmes (4). The thief palm is also protected by the Breadfruit and other Trees (protection) Act (1).


Find out more

To learn more about conservation in the Seychelles visit:



Authenticated (6/5/03) by Justin Gerlach. Scientific Co-ordinator, The Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles.



A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
The reproductive shoot of the plant, which bears flowers.


  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2011)
  2. Wise, R. (1998) A Fragile Eden. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
  3. Robertson, S.A. (1989) Flowering Plants of the Seychelles. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  4. Gerlach, J. (2002) Pers. comm.
  5. Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles (December, 2008)

Image credit

Thief palm in habitat  
Thief palm in habitat

© John Dransfield / Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 208 332 5000
Fax: +44 (0) 208 332 5197


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