Rhapis excelsa

rhapis palm


Rhapis excelsa

(Thunb.) A.Henry ex Render 1930

pronounced: RAY-piss eck-SELL-suh

(Arecaceae — the palm family)


common name: rhapis palm

Rhapis is from the Greek ραφις (raphis), a needle, and excelsa from the Latin excelsus, elevated, high.

Rhapis Palms come from the rainforests of Southern China. This is a multi-stemmed dioecious (or bisexual in some seed-grown varieties) palm that grows to a maximum height of 3 – 4 m. Each stem or cane is slender, 1–3 cm in diameter, depending on growing conditions and variety. The canes are usually covered by a coarse matted fibrous material that is actually the outer bases of the leaf sheaths. This tends to be loose and rather ragged-looking. The leaf sheaths are fairly persistent, but, when they do fall, a dark green, conspicuously ringed stem of leaf base scars is exposed, very similar in appearance to bamboo canes – the plant is sometimes called Bamboo Palm. Individual canes can be closely ringed, or the rings may be moderately spaced, depending on growing conditions.

The leaves are palmate, deep glossy green, thick-textured, and divided into regular, fairly broad segments, usually to near the junction with the petiole, but not always so. Mature palms usually have 5–12 segments per leaf, with the ends of the segments rather raggedly toothed. The segments are conspicuously ribbed, and the margins minutely toothed. The petiole is slender, often covered with a fine grey or brownish grey fluffy hair. The leaf blade is up to 80 cm across, arranged in a semi-circle – in fact, a little over the 180º. The petiole can be up to 60 cm long, although it is usually shorter. The leaf sheath, whose edges are composed of brown or grey-brown fibres, may be up to 60 cm long.

Inflorescences emerge from beneath the leaf sheath and the stem, usually from the uppermost portion of the stem. When it first emerges, the inflorescence has a pale pinkish tinge, and is enclosed in pale green tubular bracts. As it matures, the bracts dry up, turn brown, and become papery in texture. The inflorescences are branched to second order on female plants, and to third order on male plants. Inflorescences are relatively short, brittle or stiff, and tend to droop. Flowers are arranged spirally on the 2nd and 3rd order branchlets. The male flowers have a 3-lobed fleshy calyx, fused at the base. They have 3 petals, also fleshy and fused at the base, 6 stamens and 3 small aborted fused pistils. The female flowers are similar, but not as elongated. Their stamens are minute and there is a prominent 3-part pistil. Ripe fruits are white to cream, rounded, and 3–4 cm in diameter.

This palm, as with most of the genus, is an understorey plant, and grows best in a partially shaded spot. It can be grown in full sun, so long as the soil is good and adequate water is available; but the leaves will lose their deep green colouring, become yellowish green, and will probably burn on hot days. It can also be potted, and grown indoors.


Photographed in Murray Street, Nelly Bay 2010
Page last updated 23rd March 2019