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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Family: Arecaceae (palm family)

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Monocotyledons > Order: Arecales

A total of 189 genera and 2361 species (cosmopolitan, mainly warmer regions), with five genera and six species native to southern Africa . An additional 104 genera and 264 species are cultivated in the region.

Genera native to southern Africa

List from Glen (2000).


About 3-7 species, native from Africa to Sri Lanka. Borassus aethiopum (Borassus palm, African Fan Palm, Selati Palm) is native to Africa and India and within southern Africa, occurs in the Limpopo Province, eastern Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. See Flora of Zimbabwe.


About 10 species, native to Africa, Arabian Peninsula and the Mascarene Islands. There are three species native to southern Africa, and a fourth species that is cultivated in the region.


There is a single species, Jubaeopsis caffra, endemic to a small area of Pondoland in the Eastern Cape. It has become a popular ornamental plant.

Phoenix (date palms)

About 17 species, native from Africa to Asia. Phoenix reclinata is the only species native to southern Africa. An additional seven species are cultivated in the region.


About 28 species, native to tropical Africa and Madagascar and also one species native to South America. Two species are native to southern Africa: Raphia australis (Kosi palm) and Raphia farinifera (Raffia palm).


Other genera, cultivated in southern Africa

List from Glen (2002). The species name is provided in genera that have only one species cultivated in southern Africa.

Acanthophoenix rubra (Palmiste rouge)

Native to Madagascar.


Acoelorrhaphe wrightii (Silver saw palm)

Native to Florida, central America and Cuba.



Three species cultivated.


Actinorhytis calapparia (Pinang penawar)

Native to New Guinea.


Adonidia merrillii (True manila palm, Christmas palm)

Native to the Philippines.


Four species cultivated.


Allagoptera arenaria

Native to Brazil.


Archontophoenix (king palms)

Two species cultivated.



Six species cultivated.


Arecastrum romanzoffianum (Queen palm)

Native to subtropical South America.



Nine species are cultivated in southern Africa, including the Arenga pinnata (Sugar palm), which is native from India through to Indonesia.

Arikuryroba schizophylla (Aricury)

Native to Brazil.



Five species cultivated.


Beccariophoenix madagascariensis (Manarano)

Native to Madagascar.


Bactris (Peach palm genus)

Four species cultivated. Bactris gasipaes (Pejibaye, Peach palm) is native to the Amazonian region in South America and is cultivated mainly to harvest the growing stem tips (apical meristems), which are sold as 'heart of palm' or 'palm hearts'. These are eaten as a vegetable delicacy, either raw or cooked. You can buy them fresh or canned. The fruit are also harvested and are a source of flour and vegetable oil.


Bentinckia nicobarica

Native to the Nicobar Islands.


Bismarckia nobilis

Native to Madagascar.


Three species cultivated.


Burretiokentia vieillardii

Native to New Caledonia.



Three species cultivated.


Calamus (lawyer canes)

Two species cultivated.


Calyptrocalyx lauterbachii

Native to New Guinea.



Two species cultivated.


Carpentaria acuminata (North Australian feather palm)

Native to Australia.


Caryota (fish-tail palms)

Five species cultivated, the most well-known species being Caryota urens (Common fishtail palm).


Nineteen species cultivated.

Chamaerops humilis (European fan palm)

Native to southern Europe and North Africa.

Chambeyronia macrocarpa

Native to New Caledonia.



Six species cultivated.


Cocos nucifera (Coconut palm)

Coconut palms are native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean region and grow at the top of beaches, at the limit of wave action. They are grown in large plantations and are used for producing many products, such as coconut oil (from the white endosperm in the coconut), wine ('toddy'), spirit ('arrack') and coir matting. The white endosperm is used in cooking and confectionery.

Copernicia prunifera (Carnauba wax palm)

Native to Brazil.


Corypha umbraculifera (Talipot palm)

Native to southern India and Sri Lanka.

Cyphophoenix nucele (Nucele)

Native to New Caledonia.


Cyrtostachys renda (Sealing wax palm, Maharajah palm)

Native to southeast Asia.


Daemonorops margaritae (Hong Kong rattan palm)

Native to Hong Kong and the Philippines.


Deckenia nobilis

Native to the Seychelles.


Desmoncus orthacanthus (Basket tie-tie)

Indigenous from Mexico to Brazil.


Dictyosperma album (Princess palm)

Native to Madagascar, Rodrigues and Mauritius.



Two species cultivated.



Fourteen species cultivated.


Elaeis guineensis (African oil palm)

Native to tropical Africa.

Euterpe edulis (Assai, Jucara palm)

Native to Brazil.


Gastrococos crispa (Belly palm, Cuban grugru palm)

Native to Cuba.



Two species cultivated.


Gulubia macrospadix

Native to the Solomon Islands.


Hedyscepe canterburyana (Umbrella palm)

Native to Lord Howe Island.



Three species cultivated.



Two species cultivated.



Two species cultivated.



Four species cultivated.


Jessenia bataua (Jagua palm)

Native to northern South America.


Jubaea chilensis (Honey palm)

Native to Chile.


Laccospadix australasica (Australian cluster palm, Atherton palm)

Native to Australia.



Three species cultivated.



Seven species cultivated.


Two species cultivated.



Twenty-eight species of which 12 species are cultivated in southern Africa. Some species, have been transferred to Saribus.  

Lodoicea maldivica (Coco de mer, Double coconut)

Native to the islands of Praslin and Curieuse in the Seychelles. Holds the records as the plant with the largest fruit (42 kg) and largest seed (up to 17.6 kg). These seeds are sometimes washed up on southern African beaches but do not germinate here.


Two species cultivated.


Mauritia flexuosa (Buritisol)

Native to tropical South America.



Two species cultivated.


Nenga pumila (Djambe ngenge)

Native to Indonesia.


Neoveitchia storckii

Native to Fiji.


Nephrosperma vanhoutteana (Latanier millepattes)

Native to the Seychelles.


Normanbya normanbyi (Black palm, Normanby palm)

Native to Australia.


Nypa fruticans (Nipa palm)

Indigenous from India to Australia.


Oenocarpus distichus (Brazilian feather palm)

Native to Brazil.


Oncosperma tigillarium (Nibung)

Native to Southeast Asia.



Three species cultivated.


Oraniopsis appendiculata

Native to Australia.


Orbignya cohune (Cohune palm)

Indigenous from Mexico to Guatemala.


Parajubaea cocoides (Palma de coquito)

Native to Ecuador and Colombia.


Phoenicophorium borsigianum

Native to the Seychelles.


Physokentia dennisii

Native to the Solomon Islands.


Phytelephas macrocarpa (Ivory palm)

Native to Peru, Brazil and Bolivia.


Pigafetta filaris (Pigafetta palm)

Native to Indonesia.



Seven species cultivated.


Polyandrococos caudescens (Buri palm)

Native to Brazil.


Prestoea montana

Native to the West Indies.



Six species cultivated.



Two species cultivated.



Eleven species cultivated.



Two species cultivated.



Two species cultivated.


Rhapidophyllum hystrix (Needle palm)

Native to southern USA



Three species cultivated.


Rhopaloblaste elegans

Native to the Solomon Islands.



Three species cultivated.


Roystonea (royal palms)

Six species cultivated.



Eleven species cultivated.


Salacca zalacca (Salek)

Native to Indonesia.



Nine species, native to the Philippines, Borneo (Banggi Island only), Sulawesi, Moluccas, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and New Caledonia. Species were previously placed under Livistona and Prtchardiopsis but transferred to Saribus by Bacon & Baker (2011). 


Serenoa palmetto (Saw palmetto)

Native to southeastern USA.



Two species cultivated.


Synechanthus warszewiczianus

Indigenous from Costa Rica to Ecuador.



Four species cultivated.



Three species cultivated.



Two species cultivated.



Three species cultivated.


Verschaffeltia splendida (Latanier latte)

Native to the Seychelles.



Two species cultivated.



Two species cultivated.


Wodyetia bifurcata (Foxtail palm)

Native to Australia.


Zombia antillarum (Zombi palm)

Native to Haiti


Species of economic importance

Cocos nucifera (Coconut)

Coconut Palms are native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean region and grow at the top of beaches, at the limit of wave action. They are now grown in large plantations and are used for producing many products, such as coconut oil (from the white endosperm in the coconut), wine (toddy), spirit (arrack) and coir matting. The white endosperm is used in cooking and confectionery.


Phoenix dactylifera (Date Palm, real date palm)



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  • Dransfield, J. 1986. A guide to collecting palms. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 73: 166176.

  • Dransfield, J. 1986. Palmae. Flora of Tropical East Africa: 155.

  • Dransfield, J. 1988. The palms of Africa and their relationships. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 75: 95103.

  • Dransfield, J. & Uhl, N.W. 1983. Wissmannia(Palmae) reduced to Livistona. Kew Bulletin 38: 199200.

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  • van Wyk, B.-E. 2005. Food Plants of the World - Identification, Culinary Uses and Nutritional Value. Briza, Pretoria.