This unusual dioecious palm is one of only two species in Madagascar to grow in water. The trunk is relatively short and is swollen, particularly at the base. Trunk height: 2.5 - 8 m. Around 14 - 16 arching leaves stretch out from the crown and each support 59 - 63 stiff leaflets on either side of the leaf axis, giving the frond a feather-like appearance. The fruits are orange and the single seed within is covered by a hard, black seed coat. The species epithet 'musicalis' was given to this palm by a Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew botanist after he heard the musical sounds of the palm fruits dropping into the river below. Classified as Critically Endangered (CR - B1+2c) on the IUCN Red List 2002.
This species is one of the few palms in the world known to germinate under water, and is adapted to this unusual habitat. The middle layer of the fruit coat is spongy, an adaptation that allows these fruits to float. The seed will germinate within the fruit so that when the fruit splits open (after the slightest bump), it can sink to the river bottom and quickly become established. Unusually, the scale-like leaves produced by the seedling are hook-like and it is thought that these assist the seedling in anchoring itself to the river bottom.
Work in progress
Distribution Information currently being revised!
Ravenea musicalis is found only in a single river in the far south of Madagascar; The population consists of about 450 individuals known in the wild. Inhabits flowing water, which may vary in depth from 0.5 to 2.5 metres. As this palm is only known from a single river it is therefore extremely vulnerable to chance events, such as storms, and to habitat disturbance. Local people use the timber from this palm to fashion small canoe-like boats known as 'pirogues'. The area near where Ravenea musicalis occurs has been earmarked for large-scale titanium oxide mining; if mining goes ahead, the impact on the ecology of all surrounding areas could be very severe and could affect the survival of this species. This species has proved to be difficult to maintain in cultivation.