Rare River Palm in Flower

There are 140 different kinds of palms growing in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens today. I’ve mentioned this before, and possibly also that we have 200 different species (including some of the 140) lined up in our nursery ready to plant out when the flying foxes leave the Palm Grove.

It was Director Charles Moore’s (1848–1896) love of palms and figs that gives the Royal Botanic Gardens, and much of Sydney, its distinctive subtropical feel. One of Moore’s early trips was to northern New South Wales where his love affair with the fig began (and more about that in my next post…).

Undoubtedly he was also impressed by the native palms of northern Australia – he certainly planted a few during his time, including the first in the Palm Grove which he established in the early 1860s. The palm I’m featuring today is a far more recent addition to our collection. It was planted in early 2001, so it’s been living in Sydney less time than me (I arrived in 1998).

The Myola Archontophoenix (Archontophoenix myolensis) is a rare native palm from far north Queensland, and it’s in flower for the first time here. You can see it in the Rare & Threatened Garden, just outside the fenced Cacti & Succulent Garden on the Mrs Maquaries Road side of the Royal Botanic Gardens. And for more information from our website try our new Trees in the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain module.

This palm grows naturally in rainforests beside the Barron River near Kuranda and particularly around the town of … Myola! There isn’t much rainforest remaining and invasive weeds keep it from spreading into nearby cleared land, of which there is a lot. Even within the remaining rainforest, the 100 or so adult plants struggle to multiply because their seedlings are washed away by regular floods (presumably due to increased exposure after clearing of nearby vegetation).

Which is a little odd because reportedly the fruit and seedlings are well adapted to their riparian (river-side) life. The fruit is coated in fibres that, when dry, hook onto debri or sediment. And the early leaves become divided much sooner than most species of Archontophoenix which is thought to help them cope with flood water rushing over the plant.

There are nine genera of palm that grow in Australia and no where else (i.e. endemic to this country), including Archontophoenix with six species. The Myola Archontophoenix has the dubious distinction of being the rarest species of Archontophoenix in Australia, and of course in the world – not something that gets you into the Guiness Book of Records. Nor should it.

Thanks to Simon Goodwin for the images, and for sourcing a wealth of information about this species. Thanks to Jim Croft for encouraging me to use a title that just says what it means, and no more.


Aerelonian said…
Palms have the oddest flowers. It's great that this one is blooming hopefully it will produce some viable seeds!
I'm really fascinated with drift seeds, and actually collect them when they wash up on beaches. Many of the sea beans found here in North Florida are actually from South America, and the palm seeds are always fun to plant.
Tim Entwisle said…
The survival of seeds and fruits in sea water and their potential long-distance travel is a fascinating area of research too. Charles Darwin was interesting in it and tested out some seeds in salt water.

Have a look at a posting I made on this subject last year: http://talkingplants.blogspot.com/2009/06/seeds-at-sea.html.

I suggest this site to my friends so it could be useful & informative for them also. Great effort.
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Anonymous said…
I have a very similar looking palm in my garden in Port Elizabeth, South Africa which is also blooming now & is truly amazing & so beautiful & wish that I had the means to identify my tree
Robyn Kirk said…
My palm has a bright pink flower the same as the white one photographed. I live in Mt Eliza Victoria. Is this unusual? Robyn Kirkno
Tim Entwisle said…
You probably have another of the Archontophoenix species, perhaps something like Archontophoenix alexandrae? I don't know the genus particularly well but perhaps a search of the web for a few images would narrow it down. Sound very pretty though!