Licuala triphylla

Family : Arecaceae

Text © Pietro Puccio


English translation by Mario Beltramini


The species is native to Borneo, Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Thailand where it grows in the underwood of the humid forests up to about 700 m of altitude.

The generic name comes from the native one “leko wala” given to this genus of palms in the Moluccas Islands; the specific name is the combination of the Greek adjective “τρεῖς” (treis) = three and of the substantive “φύλλον” (phyllon) = leaf, with reference to the leaf divided in three-five segments.

Common names: three leaf palm (English); palas (Malaysia); ga-por-nu, ka pho nok aen, ka pho nuu, pa-laa ti-ku (Thailand).

The Licuala triphylla Griff. (1844) is a solitary monoecious species, up to about 1 m tall, with short and subterranean stem of about 2 cm of diameter. The leaves, on a 0,2-0,8 m long petiole and broad at the base about 4 mm, are palmate, almost semicircular, 15-40 cm broad, usually subdivided in 3-5 cuneiform segments of variable width, truncate and dentate at the apex; the central segment is broader than the others, 5-10 cm, and is usually connected to the petiole by means of a sort of thin extension of the same of 4-6 cm of length. The petiole is equipped at the base, for about 1/3 of its length, with curved thorns about 0,4 cm long. Inflorescences, on a 7-20 cm long peduncle, between the leaves (interfoliar), shorter than the same, erect or slightly curved, 30-40 cm long, formed by a main axis with 2-4 secondary ramified inflorescences, 8-10 cm long, carrying sessile hermaphroditic flowers, solitary or in couple, of greenish white colour and finely pubescent externally.

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Licuala triphylla is one of the smallest and most delicate extant palms. Native to the South-East Asian humid forests, has a short underground stem of about 2 cm of diameter. The leaves, very ornamental, are 15-40 cm broad on a 20-80 cm petiole. Excellent ground cover in the tropics and fruits with medicinal properties © Mazza

Globose to ellipsoid fruits, up to about 1 cm long and of 0,8 cm of diameter, initially green, then red-orange when ripe, containing one globose seed only of about 0,7 cm of diameter.

It reproduces by seed, previously cleaned from the pulp and kept in lukewarm water for two days, in aerated and draining loam rich of organic substance maintained humid at the temperature of 26-28 °C.

In absolute one of the smallest and most delicate palms, utilizable as ground cover in parks and gardens, even if small, in the humid tropical climate regions and marginally in the subtropical ones, where temperatures under the +10 °C are exceptional events and of very short duration. It needs a shady or semi-shady position, high temperatures and atmospheric humidity, does not stand dry periods. It requires perfectly draining soils, rich of organic substance, acidic to neutral, maintained constantly humid. Very impressive also in pot for the decoration of open spaces, where the climate allows this, or greenhouses or shady winter gardens, with lowest winter temperatures over the 16 °C and ambient humidity over the 70%.

The fruits are used by some local populations in the treatment of gastralgias and of nausea.

Synonyms: Licuala ternata Griff. ex Mart. (1849); Licuala triphylla var. integrifolia Ridl. (1907); Licuala pygmaea Merr. (1929); Licuala filiformis Hodel (1997); Licuala stenophylla Hodel (1997).


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