Licuala thoana

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Licuala (lik-oo-AH-lah)
thoana (toh-AHN-ah)
Malasia. Photo-Malaysian Biological Diversity
Scientific Classification
Genus: Licuala (lik-oo-AH-lah)
thoana (toh-AHN-ah)
None set.
Native Continent
Habit: Solitary
Leaf type: Costapalmate; entire & rarely divided
Survivability index
Common names

Habitat and Distribution

Peninsular Malaysia. Johor, H.S. Labis, Sg. Kinchin.
Photo-Rare Palm
Endemic. Tropical Moist Forest.

Ecology: An understorey palm of lowland dipterocarp forest, very common along the Sungei Kinchin flood plain. The palm persists in forest that has been logged although showing signs of frond yellowing whcn exposed. L. thoana is known from this basin and surrounding areas only; it has not been observed at higher elevations, for example the Gunung Beremban massif or the upper elevations of Gunung Keriong. Both mountains are adjacent to the Sungei Kinchin basin. Neither was the palm observed further downstream along the Sungei Endau or the Sungei Jasin. (L.G. Saw & J. Dransfield sp. nov. 1987)


Solitary, stemless palm. Frond stalk to 0.8 m long, frond 34 by 30 cm, entire sometimes splitting to 3 segments (side segments smaller). Fruits globose, pink in colour. Lowland Forest, logged over.

Solitary acaulescent undergrowth palm. Stem subterranean, about 30 mm in diam. Leaves about 8 in crown, marcescent; leaf base sheathing in the basal 10 cm, about 5 cm wide at the insertion, the sheath lacking a conspicuous persistent ligule and disintegrating into coarse, rather fragile fibres, the abaxial sheath surface bearing scattered caducous dot-like scales; petiole 21-40 cm long, triangular in cross section, about 7 mm wide, about 5 mm thick, armed through much of its length with rather regularly arranged, marginal spines LO 2.5 x 1 mm, the spines shaner or lacking in the distal portion. petiole glabrous adaxjally, abaxially bearing scattered dot-like scales; leaf-blade usually entire, broadly paddle-shaped, rarely divided into 3 segments, the two lateral narrower than the centre, the entire blade 34-51 x 25-30 cm, lower margins smooth, distal margin shallowly induplicately lobed, with shoner indentations associated with abaxial ribs, and deeper indentalions associated with adaxial ribs, in all lhe blade wilh about 17 folds on each side of lhe costa, blade glabrous adaxially, abaxially with scattered caducous brown indumentum, especially along the folds. Inllorescence interfoliar 10 30 cm long, bearing 2-3 spicate partial inllorescences; peduncle to 21 cm long, semi-circular in cross seclion, about 4 mm wide at lhe base; prophyll strongly 2-keeled, slriclly lubular, about 8 x 1.2 cm, apically becoming somewhat fibrous, abaxially covered in abundant rusty· brown indumentum; bracts subtending partial inflorescences 3, slriclly lubular, 25-50 x 7-11 mm, distally disintegrating into soft fibres 8-25 mm long, abaxially the bracts covered with rusty-brown indumentum; rachillae to 45 X 2.5 mm, very densely covered in rusty-brown tomentum composed of hairs 10 1.5 mm long, rachilla bracts minUle, obscured by the hairs. Flowers irregularly triangular· ovoid, about 5 x 5 mm, borne singly on shan protuberances about 0.5 mm high, 1 mm in diam.; calyx very thick, coriaceous, tubular in basal 1 mm, with 3 gibbous, rounded triangular lobes to 3 X 3 mm, the margins enlire, abaxially covered in shaggy brown hairs to 0.3 mm long; corolla very thick, coriaceous, explanate at anthesis, only slighlly longer lhan lhe calyx, tubular in basal 2 mm, wilh 3 triangular lobes 2 X 3 mm, abaxially covered in densely adpressed brown hairs, adaxially lobes marked with impressions of anthers; staminal ring borne at the mouth of the corolla tube, 0.7 mm high, the 6 free filaments equal, about 0.6 mm long, anthers somewhal apiculate, 1.2 X 0.8 mm; ovary turbinale, about 2 x 1.5 mm, covered Wilh a ring of dense adpressed brown hairs at the widest point, style slender, I x 0.1 mm. Mature fruit not known; immature fruit with 1-3 carpels developing, 5 X 2 mm in available material, bright pink. (L.G. Saw & J. Dransfield sp. nov. 1987) Editing by edric.

This is an unusual and easily identified species, immediately distinguishable in Peninsular Malaysia by its usually entire, paddle-shaped leaves, the shan inflorescence with unbranched partial inflorescences with axes and nowers all densely covered in rusty-brown hairs and the pink young fruit. In the indumentum of the inflorescence and the fruit coloration it approaches L. jerruginea Griff., but the latter is a robust acaulescent species with large leaves divided into many segments and with highly branched inflorescences. (L.G. Saw & J. Dransfield sp. nov. 1987)


Tropical Moist Forest, Cold Hardiness Zone: 10b

Comments and Curiosities

Centred in the Malesian region, there are about 25 species of Licuala native to Peninsular Malaysia (Furtado 1940). This genus of mostly understorey fan-leaved palms is one of the most conspicuous and common components of the forest undergrowth. Most species are rather local in distribution. In fact in Peninsular Malaysia alone, about 19 species are said to be endemic. This rather diverse genus is greatly in need of a general revision. Five species of Licuala were recorded in the Ulu Endau area (Dransfield & Kiew 1987) during the Malaysian Heritage and Scientific Expedition to the Endau-Rompin area (Kiew et al. 1987). Two of these are endemic to Johor (L. kiahii Furl. and L. lalluginosa). With the discovery of this new species, another rare but locally common species is added to the area of the proposed National Park. Although the genus needs a general revision, we feel the need to describe this new species in order to draw altention to the uniqueness of this area from a conservation standpoint. All the native peninsular Malaysian species of Licuala have fronds divided into segments and generally circular in outline. This new species is distinct in having fronds that are usually undivided and paddle-shaped. The species epithet honours our friend and colleague, Dr. Tho Yow Pong of the Forest Research Institute Malaysia, for his enthusiasm and diligence for conserving the Endau-Rompin area.

This small and spectacular Licuala, from the understory of the forests of Peninsular Malaysia, has the most "surreal" road that one could imagine, which consists of a very wide center rib, flanked on each side by a long narrow segment, divided to the base. This feature makes it a most desirable of all small palms, but ... yes, you guessed it ... is also one of the rarest and most difficult to obtain. In culture, Licuala thoana requires humid, tropical conditions and protection, under a canopy already formed. (

External Links


Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.

Special thanks to Geoff Stein, (Palmbob) for his hundreds of photos.

Special thanks to, Dr. John Dransfield, Dr. Bill Baker & team, for their volumes of information and photos.

Glossary of Palm Terms; Based on the glossary in Dransfield, J., N.W. Uhl, C.B. Asmussen-Lange, W.J. Baker, M.M. Harley & C.E. Lewis. 2008. Genera Palmarum - Evolution and Classification of the Palms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. All images copyright of the artists and photographers (see images for credits).

Dransfield, J. and Kiew, R. (1987). An annotated checklist of palms at Ulu Endau, Johore, Malaysia. Mal. Nal. J 41: 257-265.

Funado, C.X. (1940). The genus Ucuala in lhe Malay Peninsula. Gard. Bull. SIr. Settlements 11: 31-73.

Kiew, S.H. el al. (1987). The Malaysian Heritage and Scielllific Expedilion: Endau-Rompin, 1985-1986. Mal. Nal. J. 41: 83-92.

Many Special Thanks to Ed Vaile for his long hours of tireless editing and numerous contributions.

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