Ruffled Fan Palm

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Ruffled Fan Palm, Licuala grandis

Family: Aracaceae

Also known as: Ruffled Fan Leaf Palm, Ruffled Lantan Palm, Palas Palm or Vanuatu Fan Palm

 Reading the locales from which the 108 members of the lush Licuala family come is like thinking back to those far ways places, from our youth, that were featured in National Geographic:  New Guinea, Borneo, Sarawak, Vanuatu, Sumatra, Moluccas-Sulawesi, Viet Nam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bougainville, Java, India, the Solomon Islands, Southern China, New Britain Island, the Philippines, Australia and the Northernmost coast of Scotland . . . “naah” on the latterI just wanted to see how closely you were reading! 

They are generally understory palms but – in the wild – may “colonize”, dominating whole areas of vegetation.  Depending upon variety, they may be single trunked, clustering or acaulescent – meaning that its trunk is subterranean.) 

The Ruffled Fan Palm is small to medium in size and palmate-leaved.  It is has an attractive, small, single trunk (once in a while found in a clustering form) palm and can be enjoyed in a variety of venues – both indoors and out.  

Originating in the Republic of Vanuatu, as well as San Cristobal Island and the Santa Cruz Group in the Solomon Islands, one of the foremost reasons for its popularity are those gorgeous, medium to dark green, bright and shiny, undivided, almost circular, notched margin, leaves – 12 to 20 per palm tree.   

Its Latin name “Grandis”, obviously, means “grand or spectacular.”  Appropriately, one of the foremost authorities of palms, Robert Lee Riffle, described them as “among the choicest in the world (with) an elegance matched by few.”  Pretty heady compliment I’d say! 

As a rule it grows up to two to three meters (8-10’) in height.  But in its native habitat it may be found at nearly seven meters (30’) tall, with a top width of 2.4 meters (8’).

As a rain forest palm, it likes moist, fertile, well draining, sandy/loamy soil.  It appreciates high humidity and shade and needs protection, especially from wind, which will tear up its large, corrugated/pleated fronds.

Its smooth, gray to almost white trunk is covered in tight, brown, leaf base fibers and is slender – around 3-4 inches ( 7 ½ – 10 cm) in diameter.  It is marked by closely set leaf base scars in a semicircular ring. normally (in “captivity”) not exceeding three meters (10’) in height.  This palm’s crowning glory, its fronds, can be up to three feet wide on long, heavy petioles of the same length which, by the way, are armed with small, curved barbs on the lower margins.

Its hermaphrodite (bi-sexual) inflorescence is often not seen as it rises from a six inch stalk among the leaves, the berry appearing fruits are round, marble sized and bright red when ripe with only one seed per fruit.

This should not be planted as an isolated plant.  They are particularly pleasing looking as a multi-height grouping or when planted with complimentary palms and plants.  We have two.  One is nestled in a more shaded beneath a King Alexander Palm (Archontophoenix alexandre) from Australia and an Arikury Palm (Syagrus schizophylla) from Eastern Brazil. 

The other, receiving more sunlight, is next to its spine bearing cousin. a Mangrove Fan Palm (Licuala spinosa) from South-East Asia surrounded by some Tropical American Pepperface  (Peperomia obtusifolia) – a delightful shrubby groundcover – and some Australian Xanadu Philodendron  beneath a Medjool Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera)  from Iraq and a Bismarck  (Bismarchia noblis) that, originally, came from Madagascar.   

If you try to grow one from a seed, be patient as it may take up to a year to germinate.  Once sprouted it doesn’t gain momentum and is still slow growing.  But, one of a bit of size does make a wonderful potted specimen when used as an accent plant indoors or on the courtyard, patio or by the pool – but ensure you give it ample space and indirect sunlight. . . . though once established, it can tolerate considerably more sunshine.

I have read about – but never seen – a beautiful variegated leaf variant that grows in Singapore and which I’d dearly love to have in Ola Brisa Gardens!

Particularly indoors the Ruffled Fan Palm may be a bit prone to scale and spider mites however, generally speaking, it has few pest or disease problems.  And I suggest that you not only feed your Licuala grandis monthly with a water soluble fertilizer – consider a fish emulsion – but that you clean its leaves occasionally with a damp cloth.  It’ll love you for that!

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Known and recognized by its 12 – 20 gorgeous, medium to dark green, bright and shiny, undivided, notch-edged, almost circular leaves.

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A cousin to the Licuala grandis is this beautiful Licuala peltata found at the Tropical America Nursery outside of Mescales – tropicalamerica@gmail.com.

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Even the rough trunk is attractive – in its own way!