Hyophorbe verschaffeltii

spindle palm


Hyophorbe verschaffeltii

H.A.Wendl. 1806

pronounced: hy-oh-FOR-bee ver-shaf-FELT-ee-eye

(Arecaceae — the palm family)


common name: spindle palm

Hyophorbe comes from two Greek words, 'υς, 'υος (hys, hyos), a pig, and φορβη (phorbe), food, fodder; verschaffeltii is for Ambroise Verschaffelt, a 19th Century Belgian nurseryman and botanical artist. The common name refers to the spindle-shaped stem, which tends to widen gradually above the base and re-constrict in the crownshaft.

The palm is native to Rodrigues Island, one of the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean, where it naturally inhabits the well-drained sandy soil of upland forests and coastal savannahs. There it is a highly endangered species, with fewer than 60 individuals left in the wild, and little, if any, regeneration occurring on the island. The main threats to the species are overgrazing, invasion by non-native plants, and high levels of seed deprivation by rats. The palm is being increasingly cultivated on Rodrigues to be planted as part of a habitat restoration project, but there is a threat of hybridization with the bottle palm, Hyophorbe lagenicaulis , which has been introduced to that island.

This is a slow-growing palm that can reach 6 or 7 m in height, and it grows best in full sunlight. The pinnately compound fronds grow up to 2 or 3 m long, and are attached to a petiole about 30 cm long. The lanceolate leaflets are bright green above and greyish below, about 75 cm long, and grow out of the rachis at different angles, giving the frond a feathery appearance. The trunk is light grey, with rings around it, and is most swollen at about the midpoint of its total height. The bright green crownshaft has a smooth, waxy surface, and can reach 60 – 80 cm in height. The base of the crownshaft tapers from the swollen part of the trunk and becomes slenderer towards the top. The inflorescences, up to about 70 cm long, are heavily branched, and encircle the trunk just below the crownshaft. Both male and female flowers are produced on the same inflorescence, are fragrant, and white to cream in colour. Fruits are almost 2 cm in diameter, and turn from orange to red as they ripen.

This species is susceptible to lethal yellowing disease, so it is best to avoid planting it in areas where the disease is known to occur. Potassium and magnesium deficiencies are possible, and it may be necessary to provide mineral supplements.

The spindle palm likes plenty of moisture, and irrigation will be needed during dry spells. Propagation is by seed, which is very slow to germinate – usually 3 to 6 months. This is a beautiful palm, its swollen trunk together with its rings and waxy crownshaft and arching fronds adding a great deal of visual interest to the landscape. For optimum growth, it likes a warm seaside location.

It can be distinguished from its close relative the bottle palm (Hyophorbe lagenicaulis) by its foliage, which is shorter and more compact, and by the shape of the trunk. The bottle palm bulges nearer its base, whereas the spindle palm is more slender, and bulges higher up.


Photographs taken in Barbarra Street, Picnic Bay, 2014
Page last updated 16th January 2019