Livistona chinensis. Note the green underside of the top leaf.
There is a genus of fan-palms often
seen in Thai gardens; Livistona. There are only about 33 species from NE
Africa, tropical Asia and Australia so it is fairly easy to get a grip of
them. Although only 4-5 species are considered native to Thailand, their
beauty make exotic species popular too, so an identification of a palm tree
in a garden must not rely on a local forest flora.
leaf stalks (petioles) of L. jenkinsiana are armed with impressive spines
resembling rose-thorns or scolopender feet.
All members of Livistona have palmate fan-like leaves, often with a short
mid-rib (costa), leaf stalks with more or less prominent spines, solitary
stems, usually bisexual flowers, globose or elongated 1-seeded fruits
There is one group of Livistona palms with drooping leaf-tips, quite
ornamental. Common species in Thai gardens are Livistona chinensis (Native
to the coastal forests of Taiwan and Hainan, fruits blue-green, leaves
divided only halfway), L. drudei (Australian, fruits black) and L. saribus
(Southeast Asian species, edible blue fruits, deeply divided leaves almost
to base into groups of segments).
Another group of Livistona palms have stiff leaf tips which do not droop.
Common species in Thai gardens are Livistona australis (Australia, leaf
stalks almost unarmed), Livistona jenkinsiana (India and Southeast Asia,
heavily armed leaf stalks, leaves greyish green below, fruit wider than
long, possibly conspecific with L. speciosa), L. muelleri (Australian,
slow-growing and not taller than 6m), L. rotundifolia (from rainforests in
Malaysia and Indonesia and so unsuitable here in the dry Chiang Mai) and the
native wild L. speciosa (fruit longer than wide, possibly conspecific with
L. jenkinsiana which is the oldest and therefore valid name).
The genus name Livistona was coined by Robert Brown in 1810; “Dixi in
memoriam viri nobilis Patricii Murray Baronis de Livistone”. Patrick Murray
(1634-1670) created a private botanical garden at his estate, which after
his death was merged with that of his teacher’s Sir Andrew Balfour. The
combined collections became the foundation of today’s Royal Botanic Garden
Palms can be divided into fan palms with palmate leaves including the genus
Livistona (subfamily Coryphoideae), climbing palms or rattans (Calamoideae),
nipa palm which grows in mangroves and has erect leaves (Nypoideae) and
pinnate palms (subfamilies Arecoideae with flowers in groups of three, one
female and two male, e.g. coconut, Ceroxyloideae with spirally arranged
flowers, largely South American, e.g. frost hardy Ceroxylon and
Phytelephantoideae which are always bisexual (monoecious)).