Livistona

Family: Arecaceae
Common Name: Cabbage Palm

There are around 30 species in this genus of fan palms, native to Australia, New Guinea and Southeast Asia. The species vary in size from dwarf, understorey palms less than 2 m (6 ft) high, with stems 5 cm (2 in) thick, to those reaching 30 m (100 ft), with huge crowns. Most are single-trunked, sometimes covered with the remains of old leaf-bases, though many have only faintly marked, gray or brownish trunks when mature. The leaves are generally fairly deeply divided into long, narrow segments. The inflorescences develop from among the leaf-bases. Drooping sprays of small, creamish yellow flowers are surrounded by brown or red-dish brown bracts. The flowers have both male and female parts, though some species never set fruit. The purple-black fruits may be round or oblong, with a hard seed. Their elegant foliage makes them excellent for outdoor landscaping, and they can be used indoors when young.

Species

Not all of these species are available outside their native countries.

L. alfredii, Millstream palm, occurs only in oasis areas of the very dry Pilbara area of Western Australia. It is slow growing, to about 12 m (40 ft), and is rarely seen outside specialist collections. This elegant, ornamental palm does well in very hot, dry regions, though it must have permanent water at its feet.

L. australis, cabbage palm, is found along the east coast of Australia, from southern Queensland to Victoria. The 'cab­bage', or fleshy part of the leaves of this palm was eaten by the early explorers as a vegetable substitute and the leaves were woven into bas­kets and hats by the early colonists. Easy to cul­tivate, it is one of the taller species, reaching heights of 25 m (80 ft). The glossy, olive green, fan leaves are fairly deeply divided, with droop­ing tips. The dull, brownish black, round fruits are about 2 cm (¾ in) in diameter.

L. ben­thamii, from far northern Queensland the Northern Territory, and Papua New Guinea, is a tropical, lowland species, occurring in swampy creeks on the margins of rainforests close to the sea. Growing 10-15 m (33-50 ft), it has folded, deeply divided leaves. It makes a very orna­mental indoor plant when young.

L. chinensis, Chinese fan-palm, thought to have originated from southern China, is one of the most popu­lar ornamental palms for tropical and temper-ate regions. It has a rough trunk and a heavy, round crown of very large, pale, dull green leaves with long, weeping tips. The elongated fruits are a beautiful, blueish gray colour. In warm temperate areas, it reaches 6-8 m (20-26 ft) tall over many years, while in tropi­cal areas, it is faster growing to about 15 m (50 ft) tall.

L. decipiens, from coastal central Queensland, is similar to L. australis in size and colour, but its leaves are divided right down to the midrib into numerous, very long, narrow segments, part of which hang down vertically. The delicate, curtain-like effect created makes this one of the most beautiful of all the species.

L. mariae, from central Australia, is another species found only in oasis areas of very dry country. However, it is quite similar to L. alfredii but resembles L. australis in size and growth habit. Its most striking characteris­tic is the deep, reddish purple colour of the young plants, which develops best in full sun in hot, dry conditions and fades to green after a height of 1-2 m (3-6 ft) is reached. This species is easily cultivated, at least when young, and grows more rapidly than most others.

L. rotun­difolia, from Indonesia and the Philippines, is a tall, tropical species which is very attractive when young. The leaves form an almost circu­lar shape and the tips of most of the broad seg­ments are only slightly pendulous. Var. luzo­nensis has a very attractive trunk which is smooth, shiny and reddish brown between the prominent, white or gray rings formed by the leaf scars.

Cultivation

In climates prone to frost, grow these palms in an intermediate to warm green-house, or as house plants in a warm room. Grow in pots of soil-based potting compost. Plants need good light but shade from direct sun. Water normally during the growing season but much less during winter. Outdoors grow in well-drained yet moist soil and in full sun or light shade. Propagate from seed sown in the spring and germinated at a temperature of 24°C (75°F). Germination can be rapid, often under two months, although some species take up to six months. The seedlings are very deep root­ing, so sow one seed per pot to avoid distur­bance.

Climate

Zone 10.

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Littonia      Lobelia