Livistona muelleri

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Livistona (liv-iss-TOH-nah)
muelleri (mule-lehr'-ee)
Near Kuranda, Queensland, Australia. Photo by Dr. John Dransfield, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew/Palmweb.
Scientific Classification
Genus: Livistona (liv-iss-TOH-nah)
muelleri (mule-lehr'-ee)
None set.
Native Continent
Habit: Solitary
Leaf type: Palmate
Survivability index
Common names
Cairns Fan Palm.

Habitat and Distribution

Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
Semi-open woodland. Photo by Dr. J. L. Dowe.
In north Queensland from the Torres Strait islands to near Innisfail. In Papua New Guinea in the Western Province; and in Indonesia, in Papua, Merauke Division. Grows in grassy open forest, woodland, moist sclerophyll forest, and less commonly on the margins of vine thickets, 0-300 m alt., and most common in areas that have a strongly seasonal rainfall pattern. (Dowe, J.L.)/Palmweb.


This colony is probably the most southerly stand of these small palms. The leaves are palmate, up to 1 m in diameter, borne on a petiole of about 1.3 m in length. The height of each palm is up to 6 m, but generally most of them are around 3m. The trunk is relatively thin, to 30cm, the lower leaves are persistent and hang in a dead skirt just where the upper part of the trunk meets the leaf foliage. The crown of Livistona muelleri is generally symetrical, having rather stiff, bright green and dense fans, and the flower panicle of about 1m in length has cream to pale yellow flowers approximately 25mm across. The seed is globular and bluishblack in colour.

Functionally dioecious palm. Trunk to 12 m tall, 15-25 cm in diameter; breast high, leaf scars narrow, raised, roughened and with remnant tissue, internodes narrow, grey, petiole stubs persistent, or deciduous with extreme age or fire. Leaves 25- 35 in a globose crown, held erect; petiole 70-100 cm long, 14-20 mm wide, adaxially concave, margins with single curved black spines 2-12 mm long throughout, larger and closer spaced in the proximal portion; both adaxial and abaxial surfaces with rows of corky scales, persistent, at first redbrown aging to grey; leaf-base fibres not prominent, fine, disintegrating; lamina costapalmate, regularly segmented, circular, 60-90 cm long, rigid, flat, chartaceous, adaxially olive green to grey green, abaxially dull bluish green, glabrous except for a few scales on ribs; lamina divided for 50-65% of its length, with 48-60 segments, depth of apical cleft 5-14% of the segment length; apical lobes acute, rigid; parallel veins ca 8 each side of midrib; transverse veins thinner than parallel veins. Inflorescences unbranched at the base, not sexually dimorphic, 80-160 cm long, not extending beyond the limit of the crown, branched to 4 orders; partial inflorescences 5-10; peduncular bract(s) lacking; rachis bracts loosely tubular, with silver scales, splitting and disintegrating with age, but margins not lacerate; rachillae 2-13 cm long, papillose, maroon to red. Flowers solitary or in clusters of 2-3, 1.3-1.6 mm long; sepals broadly triangular, 0.8-1 mm long, maroon, fleshy, cuspidate; petals ovate, 1.3-1.6 mm long, bright yellow, subacute; stamens about 1.4 mm long, yellow; carpels pink to maroon. Fruit ellipsoid, 10-12 mm long, 8.5-10 mm in diam., powdery blue, reddish black or bluish black; epicarp smooth, pruinose; suture line extends for full length of the fruit, marked with lip-like structures; mesocarp thin, dry; endocarp very thin, brittle; pedicel 0.5-1 mm long. Seed globose, 8-9 mm wide. Eophyll 3-ribbed. (Dowe, J.L.)/Palmweb. Editing by edric.


In cultivation this palm is still not widely used, possibly because the plants grown from seed are notoriously slow. It should suit most well drained soils in the subtropical and tropical climates. Used as a potted plant, it has great potential and is extremely handsome at the juvenile stage. Seed can take as long as 6 months to germinate, but can be accelerated by soaking them in warm water and then putting them down in a small hessian bag with a quantity of peat moss that has been soaked in a nutrient solution. Cold Hardiness, Zone: 9b

Comments and Curiosities

Phenology: Flowers Sep-Apr; fruits Nov-May.

Conservation: Least concern. (Dowe, J.L.)/Palmweb.

With its numerous small, stiff leaves arranged in a very orderly and ornamental fashion, this mid-sized palm from northeastern Australia grows to about 10 m (30 ft.) tall and looks a lot like a small Copernicia. Most impressive are its large, spreading, red inflorescences. In cultivation it has proven to be surprisingly adaptable; it is easily grown in any warm temperate to tropical climate, and will resist moderate freezes. (

Livistona muelleri, named for Baron Ferdinand yon Mueller, is a beautiful species occurring from coastal Tully to Cape York and the west side of Cape York Peninsula. There is no recognized common name for this species except that like most other Livistonas it was probably called 'cabbage tree' by aboriginals who used the leaves as thatch and ate the centre growing cabbage.

In 1968, while holidaying at Bilyana between Cardwell and Tully, I examined a small colony of this palm growing near Bilyana Creek. The lower petioles of each fan were armed with quite formidable curved thorns on the margins. Combined with the bristly golden thorns of Calamus moti which grew around the palm, I became firmly entangled and had to be extricated by the Post-Mistress of the local Bilyana Post Office. This was much to my relief as we had all heard crocodiles bark in the creek at night.

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).

Dowe, J.L., A taxonomic account of Livistona R.Br. (Arecaceae). A taxonomic account of Livistona R.Br. (Arecaceae).

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

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