682 Ravenala madagascariensisCommon Names: traveler's palm, traveler's tree Family: Strelitziaceae (bird-of-paradise Family)
The traveler's palm is one of nature's most distinctive and remarkable plants. The traveler's palm (not a true palm) has been described as being part banana plant and part palm tree. Its long petioles (leaf stems) and deep green leaves resemble those of the banana and extend out from the trunk like the slats of a giant hand fan. The leaves range up to 10 ft (3 m) long and from 12-20in (25-51 cm) in width. Young traveler's palms have a subterranean trunk which, in the adult plant, emerges above ground elevating the symmetrical crown to heights ranging from 30-60 ft (9-18 m). The green palmlike trunk grows up to 1 ft (0.3 m) in diameter and displays distinctive trunk leaf scar rings. Multitudes of small creamy white flowers compose an inflorescence up to 12in (30.5 cm) long. A mature traveler's palm may bloom year round and produce brown fruits that contain light blue seeds.
Ravenala madagascariensis, the traveler's palm is endemic to (occurs nowhere but...) secondary forests on the island of Madagascar which is off the coast of east Africa in the Indian Ocean.
CultureThe traveler's palm tolerates sandy and clayey soils with good drainage, and thrives in rich, moist and loamy soils. It responds well to fertilizer and is considered a heavy feeder. Some growers feed their traveler's palm monthly with a light application of commercial tropical plant food or a plant food specifically formulated for palms. Alternatively, a slow release fertilizer (e.g., an 18-18-18) may be used during the summer growing season. This vigorous plant is considered very disease and pest resistant. Light: The traveler's palm thrives and grows best in full sun but also grows well in part sun/shade. Small plants should be shaded until well established. The traveler's palm requires a lot of light, especially when grown indoors. Moisture: Soils should be moist and have good drainage to yield optimal growth. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 11. Mature traveler's palms are considered cold hardy in frost-free locations. There are reports of enthusiasts successfully growing traveler's palms in USDA Zone 9, where they would need to be protected from the occasional frost. Propagation: The traveler's palm may be propagated by seeds or by division and replanting of the attractive clumps (or suckers) formed at the base of the plant.
The traveler's palm is considered to be one of nature's most spectacular trees and is a superb accent plant. Plant the traveler's palm outdoors in a tropical landscape that is free from frosts with overhead room to accommodate the large crown of foliage. Shelter the traveler's palm from strong winds, otherwise the leaves become tattered. Traveler's palm can also be grown indoors and in greenhouses where lighting is plentiful and where the container in which it is growing restricts plant size.
The traveler's palm has very deep roots in folklore and tradition. Have you ever wanted to have your very own wishing well? The traveler's palm may be just the plant for you! It is said, "If a traveler stands directly in front of a traveler's palm and makes a wish in good spirit - that wish will definitely come true."
The traveler's palm gets its name from the fact that thirsty travelers could find stores of water in many parts of the plant including the leaf folds, flower bracts and inside each of the hollow leaf bases each of which may hold up to one quart of water! Although not a true palm, the traveler's palm is considered one of the most striking and unique trees in nature. It is perfect for that special accent in your tropical landscape. The traveler's palm is unique in nature and is monotypic, meaning it is the only species in its genus. The species name, madagascariensis, denotes its origin in Madagascar.
Be forewarned, that although the traveler's palm has no thorns, it is sure to snag most everyone's attention. It is the the main attraction and focus of any tropical landscape in which it appears!
Chuck McLendon 5/16/00; updated 1/3/05