Raphia farinifera (2)
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One of the three specimens of the giant palm Raphia farinifera, growing by the Lagoon, in The Palmetum Townsville, Australia, started to flower in October 1993. This was unexpected, as the palm was only planted in the ground in 1988, with its age (from germination) estimated to be only 7-9 years. Usually, Raphia species flower at 20-30 years of age.
Raphia is a genus in which the species have a flowering habit which is termed either monocarpic or hapaxanthic, depending on whether the species is single stemmed or clumping. Monocarpy (mono - once or single; carp - fruit bearing) is the process in which a single-stemmed plant flowers and fruits only once following an extended period of strictly vegetative growth, and then dies immediately once the fruit has matured, whereby Hapaxanthy is the process in which a multi-stemmed, clump forming plant flowers and fruits on an individual stem only once then dies. Unlike monocarpy which results in the death of the plant, hapaxanthy means the death of only the flowering/fruiting shoot - other stems will eventually grow to replace the dead ones so that the plant will continue to live.
These processes involve many years of vegetative
(leaf growth, an abrupt cessation of vegetative growth and then the
production of flowering/fruiting structures which may then
take a further few years to develop and mature. Immediately
prior to the time that the inflorescence begins to emerge,
leaves cease to be produced and those already on the plant
begin to deteriorate. By the time the fruit is fully mature
the trunks are virtually leafless. Fruits mature and fall
over a short period, and the palm will eventually topple or
be blown over, creating a large untidy pile of decaying
leaves, trunk and infructescence.
In Raphia the inflorescences are produced from the top of
the trunk. Some species have an erect towering structure many
metres tall whilst others have pendulous structures which
resemble large ropes hanging from the top of the trunk,
almost touching the ground, as seen in the accompanying photo
of Raphia farinfera. Many hundreds of thousands of
flowers are produced, followed by tens of thousands of fruit.
Structurally and floristically, the inflorescences are unique
within the palm family. Both male and female flowers occur on
the same rachilla, the females occupying the basal half,
whilst the males the distal half. Flowers are strongly
dimorphic; the male flowers are conspicuous, large and
tubular with long petals, while the females are
inconspicuous and small, the stigma protruding only
marginally from between large bracts.
The flowering of Raphia farinifera
in The Palmetum will give both botanic garden's staff and
visitors a unique opportunity to witness one of the palm
family's most unusual and dramatic reproductive events.
(from Palms & Cycads No 40 Oct - Dec 1993).