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What is Livistona?

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  • Written By: Terrie Brockmann
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2016
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The genus Livistona in the plant family Arecaceae contains about 28 species of palms, frequently called fan palms. These palms are native to parts Asia, including southern Japan, and Australia, and are cultivated in many tropical or subtropical regions as landscaping plants. Even though these palms may reach 80 to 100 feet (about 25 to 30 m) in height, at least two of the species — L. australis and L. chinensis — are popular indoor palms. In natural areas, Livistona palms grow in woodland regions, including rainforests, in inland gorges, and in swampy areas and along stream banks. The loss of habitat threatens many Livistona plants in their native lands.

The fan-shaped leaves make it a desirable landscaping palm. Each large frond, or compound leaf, is palmately lobed, meaning that it is deeply divided into lobes. Similar to the way fingers attach to a person's palm, these divisions do not extend to the basal, or base, part. Some species have pleated leaves, with a crease running to the end of each leaf finger.

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The common name for L. australis is Australian fan palm, and growers frequently call the L. chinensis the Chinese fan palm or the fountain palm. Generally, growers adapt these two palms for indoor use in addition to landscaping. Indoors, they rarely produce a trunk. In containers, they grow to a high of approximately 3 feet (about 1 m) with 18-inch (about 46-cm) or broader leaves. The waxy leaves have the appearance of a semicircle leaf that someone has methodically cut into ribbons or fingers.

In the wild, the Australian fan palm may top heights of 80 feet (about 24 m). It has a dense crown of dark green, waxy leaves that are almost round in shape. Its robust trunk often has a skirt of dead leaves and prickly fibers, but most of the trunk is naked. Sometimes nurseries label this plant as Corypha australis.

The Chinese fan palm is a low-growing palm that has a heavy crown of fan-shaped leaves that are more semi-circular than the Australian fan palm. The bright green, glossy leaves may reach diameters of 6 to 8 feet (about 2 to 2.5 m). Often it grows to be 40 feet (about 12 m) tall with a robust trunk that is distinctly swollen at the base. It bears glossy, blue-gray to grayish pink fruit. Buyers need to research the plant well, because some nurseries label it as Latania borbonica.

Other fan palms include the taraw palm, or L. saribus, from Thailand. The attractive palm grows to 40 feet (about 12 m) tall, bears an interesting blue fruit, and has spines along the leaf stems that resemble shark's teeth. The red fan palm, or L. marjae, can grow to 100 feet (about 30 m) tall and have a canopy spread of 25 feet (about 8 m). The slender trunk has a swollen base and usually has a sheath of older fronds, especially at the top. People call it the red fan palm because the seedlings and immature plants have maroon or maroon-tinged leaves when they are in full sun.

The slim trunk of the L. rotundifolia, or anahaw palm, bears leaf scars, giving the trunk a patterned effect. The spiny leaf stalks may reach lengths of 6 feet (2 m) and bear rounded, dark green blades with many linear, or sword-like, lobes. When in bloom, it produces panicles of cream-colored flowers, which mature into bright red, round fruits that turn to black with age. This palm may grow to 80 feet (about 25 m).

The Aboriginal people sometimes eat "cabbages," or the immature palm fronds, of some species and varieties; but Livistona palms do not grow side shoots, so it kills the plant. They also used substances from the plant stem of various species to make a drink, and others used it for medicinal purposes. New shoots of various species produce a deep purple dye.

Depending on the species, some people eat the seeds like betel nuts. In a few cultures, herbalists value the fruits of some species for their medicinal purposes. People use the dried leaves of most species of Livistona palms for roof thatching, making hats and baskets, and other projects.

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