Raphia hookeri

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Raphia (rahf-EE-ah)
hookeri (hook-EHR-ee)
Raphia hookeri infructescences.jpg
Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Nursury, Thailand. Photo by Paul Craft.
Scientific Classification
Genus: Raphia (rahf-EE-ah)
hookeri (hook-EHR-ee)
None set.
Native Continent
Habit: Solitary & clustering
Leaf type: Pinnate
Survivability index
Common names
Raphia palm, West African Wine Palm, Ivory Coast raphia palm (En). Raphia (Fr). Ráfia (Po). Mwale (Sw).

Habitat and Distribution

Raphia hookeri is found from Gambia through the Guinea forest zone of West Africa to
Nigeria, jungle area in the heart of Lagos, 6 degrees North of the Equator. Photo by Chris.
Cameroon, Gabon and Congo and possibly to DR Congo and Angola. It is occasionally cultivated, e.g. in Nigeria. Outside Africa it is grown in India, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. Raphia hookeri occurs in freshwater swamps and on river banks in the Guinean Zone of West and Central Africa. It generally does not tolerate saline conditions; near the Guinea coast it is replaced by Raphia palma-pinus. In some places (e.g. southern Benin and south-eastern Nigeria) human activity (cutting of dicotyledonous trees, planting of Raphia hookeri) has turned natural swamp vegetation into ‘rafiales’, in which Raphia hookeri is the dominant species. The soils of Nigerian freshwater swamps are light textured and generally acidic. (PROTA)

Western tropical Africa - Sierra Leone to Central African Republic and Zaire, south to Angola. Lowland coastal freshwater swamps, where it can grow in water up to 1 metre deep, and river banks.


Tall, solitary or rarely clustered palm; stem 15 m long or more, with leaves to 10-15 m long; leaflets to 160-180 on each side of rachis; inflorescences pendant, up to 3.5 m long; fruits variable in shape, ranging from ellipsoid to nearly cylindrical and turbinate, 5-12 cm long and 4-6 cm in diameter, covered by yellow-brown scales. (palms.myspecies.info)

Monoecious Palm, trunk up to 10 m tall and 30 cm in diameter, usually single, occasionally with 1–4 suckers; upper part of trunk with blackish fibres (marcescent leaf-bases). Leaves arranged spirally, pinnate, up to 12 m long, erect, dark green and shining above, waxy and glaucous below; sheath 3–4 m long, unarmed, splitting opposite the petiole; petiole 3–4 m long; leaflets 1–1.5 m × 4–5 cm, about 200 on each side of the rachis, terminal segments gradually narrowing to a fine point and having spines on upper side of midrib and on margins. Inflorescence axillary, pendulous, 2.5 m or more long, branched to 2 orders, compressed-cylindrical, with crowded branches; branches bearing many curved ultimate branchlets in 4 rows but mostly compressed into one plane; branchlets 15–23 cm long, rigid; branches and branchlets with short-tubular, truncate bracts at base. Flowers unisexual; male flowers at apex of inflorescence branchlets, female flowers at base, 3-merous; male flowers 1.5–2.5 cm long, with 1 bracteole slightly longer than thick, calyx with blunt lobes, corolla much longer than calyx, curved, with segments thickened near the tip, stamens (15–) 18–22 (–24), with erect, linear anthers; female flowers larger than male, with 2 bracteoles, calyx as in male, corolla about as long as calyx, with acuminate segments thickened near tip, staminodes 12–15, ovary superior, 3-celled, stigma sessile, recurved, subulate. Fruit a 1-seeded berry, inversely conical or ellipsoid, 6–12 cm × 4–5 cm, with stout beak 1–1.5 cm long, more or less obliquely tipped, covered with scales in (11–) 12 (–15) vertical rows; scales convex, slightly less broad than long, narrowly furrowed, reddish brown or pale yellowish brown with darker point, obtuse at the base, almost entire. Seed 6–7.5 cm × 3–3.5 cm, oblong, irregularly grooved; albumen narrowly ruminate. Seedling with hypogeal germination, with tap root and some adventitious roots; first 3–4 leaves strongly reduced and irregularly incised, subsequent leaf 50–100 cm long and with about 12 leaflets at each side of the rachis. (PROTA), Editing by edric.


A palm of the wet, lowland tropics, where it is found at elevations up to 200 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 24 - 30°c, but can tolerate 14 - 36°c. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 3,000 - 4,000 mm, but tolerates 2,000 - 5,000 mm. Requires a hot, sunny position in a moist soil. Prefers a pH in the range 5 - 6, tolerating 4.5 - 6.5. Dislikes saline soils. Plants can tolerate being in flooded ground.

A monocarpic plant - growing for several years without flowering, then producing a massive inflorescence and dying after setting seed. Inflorescences are produced more or less simultaneously in the axis of the most distal leaves. Tapping for wine may damage the developing inflorescence, making flowering impossible and accelerating death.

The time from planting to flowering in Raphia hookeri is 3 - 7 years. Managed stands are mostly left to rejuvenate naturally by seed. In Nigeria, selected trees are left untapped for this purpose. Hot, sunny, and moist; doesn't mind wet feet. Not very cold tolerant. Cold Hardiness Zone: 10a

Comments and Curiosities

External Links


Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.

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

Special thanks to Palmweb.org, 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).

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

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