Raphia regalis

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Raphia (rahf-EE-ah)
regalis (reh-GAHL-iss)
TC398 Raphia regalis Ngovoyang Cameroo Feb 2014 62.JPG
TC 398, Ngovagang, Cameroon, Feb 2014. Photo by Dr. Thomas Couvreur.
Scientific Classification
Genus: Raphia (rahf-EE-ah)
regalis (reh-GAHL-iss)
None set.
Native Continent
Habit: Solitary
Leaf type: Pinnate
Survivability index
Common names

Habitat and Distribution

Africa. Occurrs in upland forest in Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea,
Costa del Sol Malaga Axarquia España. Pedro giving scale. Photo by Pedro Nicolas.
Gabon, Congo and Cabinda (Angola).


Raphia regalis is an evergreen palm. The plant forms a short stem up to 1 metre long Acaulescent, but this is mainly buried underground so that the plant appears stemless. The stem is topped by a rosette of a few, very long, more or less erect leaves that can exceed 20 metres in length and are said to be the largest leaves of any plant.

Raphia regalis is a large, distinctive palm, its massive, pinnate leaves being the largest in the plant kingdom. In common with other members of the genus Raphia, these leaves wither but remain on the plant when they die. Raphia regalis appears to be stemless, but in fact has a short, stocky trunk, under a metre in length, buried just below the ground; the leaves of the palm therefore rise up from near ground level. Each leaf typically bears 180 leaflets on each side of the central stem, or rachis. Each leaflet measures up to 6.5 centimetres across at its widest point, and is green above and greyish-white and waxy below. Most Raphia species bear small spines along the margins and midrib of each leaflet, but these are sparse and inconspicuous in Raphia regalis.

Flowering in Raphia regalis usually occurs only after a prolonged period of vegetative growth, perhaps lasting years, at the end of which a burst of growth causes the central axis of the palm to elongate to four metres or more in height. This is followed by the development of large, complex, branched inflorescences, which can reach an impressive three metres in length and which, unusually for this genus, are held erect. Raphia regalis is monoecious, meaning that male and female flowers, which are reddish in colour and have a sharp, prickly tip, are borne on the same plant. The fruits of this palm are variable in size and shape, but are generally large, up to 9.5 centimetres in length, ovoid with a narrow base, and reddish-brown in colour. Each fruit is covered in symmetrical rows of large, shiny, overlapping scales, and contains a curved or spindle-shaped seed. Most Raphia palms shed large numbers of seeds, often leading to dense, uniform stands of the same species, although the fruits attract a range of animals which may aid in seed dispersal. Like all palms of this group, Raphia regalis flowers only once and then dies; monocarpic. Editing by edric.


Cold Hardiness Zone: 10b

Comments and Curiosities

Uses: The plant is commonly harvested from the wild for local use as a food and source of materials. This highly distinctive palm, with no aerial trunk and with leaves rating among the largest in the plant kingdom, is likely under-recorded due to difficulties in collecting specimens of it, and in the fact that it has received limited taxonomic attention. Continuing decline is inferred because of extensive forest clearance for timber and for agricultural expansion in Nigeria and Bakossi. Selective felling for use in building and tapping of palm wine, mainly in Nigeria, poses a serious threat. The species may well be more threatened than the current listing indicates. The plant is classified as 'Vulnerable' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

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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