Hyphaene petersiana

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Figure 1. H. petersiana in habitat,


Common Names:

Real Fan Palm,
Makalani Palm,
Northern Ilala Palm,
Vegetable Ivory Palm

Distribution & Habitat:

This plant is found in lowland savanna in south-eastern Africa.


This is a massive (to 25m (80feet) tall) solitary (altho occasionally it can have twin trunks) palm, which usually has a ventricose trunk (i.e. swollen in the middle). It has very large, strongly costapalmate leaves that are gray green in colour, with stiff segments that are held in a rounded crown. They have a large, round fruit, with a hard white nut (hence the common name of vegetable ivory).


The plant is used extensively by the locals; the leaves for roofing, and basket weaving, the hard white nut for carving, and the sap for a wine known locally as mochema. Unfortunately the sap collecting is often fatal to the tree, so the palm is now becoming rare around some of the more populated areas.

This palm's fruits are a favourite food of elephants, which will bump the trees in order to dislodge the fruit. This is swallowed whole, the flesh digested, and then the seed is excreted in its own little pile of manure, all ready to germinate.

Etosha National Park, Northern Namibia.


Likes it hot and dry, but will probably tolerate high rainfall if it is well drained. Very drought tolerant. Requires at least a sub-tropical climate.

Figure 2. Looking into the crown of a H. petersiana with young fruit.

Contributed by:

Brandt Maxwell,
Africa Trees (Figure 1)

External Links:

Kew, PalmWeb, JSTOR, Trebrown

Google, Google Images, Flickr, PACSOA Forums, PalmTalk