Palm Grass

Logo civilized jungle Capture


Palm Grass,  Molineria capitulata                                                                                                                                                 

Family:  Amaryllidaceae                                                                                                                                                                 

Also known as:  Whale Back, Snout Lily or Pleated Skirt

As folks tour our “Civilized Jungle”, they often comment on the attractiveness of our Palm Grass thriving in the African Oil Palm shade.  And, at first sight, these plants seems rather easy to identify as they look, very much, like the young fronds of reasonably freshly sprouted Coconut Palm trees. 

Then one pauses, ponders and pronounces, “But no, I see no coconut at its base and, after all, it is called Palm Grass so I must assume it is the latter sort of vegetative growth – a grass of some sort.  In fact, or one individual described it, “a very robust grass!   ”But no, it’s in neither the palm nor grass families. 

This lush, evergreen perennial can be found ranging – along with six other of its related herbaceous perennials – from southern Japan, through Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia to Australia.  However, there’s a bit (now that’s a major understatement) of confusion as to which botanical family it’s actually in. 

Depending upon which botanist you listen to, it’s either in the Amaryllidaceae or Hypoxidaceae family while yet others state that it is a part of the Curculigo genus!  If that’s not muddling enough, it is known by eight different Latin names – the one above as well as Leucojum capitulatum, Curculigo recurvata, Molineria recurvate, Curculigo capitulata, Molineria capitulata, Curculigo glabra and Molineria hortensis.  It goes by more names than a south-side hot check artist!

And – “Oh, by the way” – don’t get this confused with Setaria palmifolia which is also called Palm Grass!

This one, about which we are presently speaking, is described – by a fine source, but simply, for the likes of folks like me a bit too technical – as follows. “Perennial herbs with bulbous stem. Leaves simple, apical to the bulbous stem, 30-70 x 14-10 cm, elliptic-lanceolate, acuminate, prominently ribbed; petiole 20-50 cm long, deeply grooved on the upper surface. Flowers in pedunculate heads, 3-5 cm across; peduncles 2-10 cm long from the base of the bulbs. Perianth tube 1-2 cm long, densely covered with yellowish-brown hairs outside; lobes 8-10 x 3-4 mm, elliptic, yellow. Stamens 6, 6-7 mm long; ovary basally 3-celled and unilocular towards the apex; ovules many, placentation axile at base and parietal towards the apex. Fruit 7-8 x 6 mm, densely brown stellate hairy; seeds dark brown, 1.5-2 mm long, testa rugose and ribbed, embedded in white pulp.”

Say what?

Perhaps you can now see why I try to keep my discussions a little less . . . . well, botanically precise, shall we say!

Upon observing this many named plant, one notes its pleasing appearing, pleated, palm-like leaves.  These rise from its tuberous roots with very small, non-scented, yellow flowers – right on the ground level.  They are borne, year around, on short leafless stalks,arranged in a cluster (a capitula).

Palm Grass likes fertile soil in a shaded area, regular watering in a fertile, humus-rich, moisture-retentive, well-draining soil.  It can be propagated by division, offsets or seeds.  I have read – but have not personally observed nor studied this – that the rhizomes of the Palm Grass can remain dormant over an extended period of time regardless of all sorts of adverse conditions.

Another positive aspect of Palm Grass is that it’s quite insect and disease resistant and – what with Jose, Juan and me fighting White Scale and Black Smut Mold of late – that’s important!

Now, I don’t make this stuff up you know, but, supposedly, fiber from Palm Grass can be rolled into a somewhat rough string and is sometimes used for fishing nets; the leaves are purportedly  good for packing fruit; the edible fruits are said to increase the appetite and taste somewhat like sweetened cucumbers; a decoction (method of extraction by boiling plant material) of the rhizome is added to other plants and then drunk for menorrhagia;  in at least one Philippine culture the fiber is collected to make false hair; rhizome material is used by the Northeast India, Aos people for eye diseases; and – lastly this knowledge nugget I know you have long been seeking  – it is said that it can cure an elephant’s fever through some manner of process wherein parts of this plant are sprinkled over the ailing pachyderm!

In the words of Jack Paar – The venerable Tonight Show’s host who preceded Johnny Carson (who was, in turn, followed by Jay Leno) – “I kid you not!”

Palm Grass Nathan IMG_7267

At first blush one might think this is simply a sprouting Coconut Palm – Wrongo!


Its very small, non-scented, right on the ground level, yellow flowers are borne, year around, on short leafless stalks arranged in a cluster.


This “very robust grass” has pleasing in appearance pleated leaves.