This towering pillar of bark and leaves is a young Traveller’s Palm, one of the many trees that can be found in the Eden Project. This one is fairly young, with only a few of the large frond leaves that make it so iconic sprouting from the tip. As it matures those leaves will spread out into a fan, the outer leaves of which will fall of to reveal more bark underneath. These trees reach heights of about 7 or 8 metres, and the fan of fronds can reach the same distance across in a large specimen. It’s need for large amounts of nitrates and sunshine mean that the rainforests of Madagascar, of which it is native to, are perfect for it to grow, although many of them are used as decorative plants in the west coast of California, where conditions are also ideal for their growth. They sprout small white flowers with large protective leaves, and produce small, blue pod-like seeds.
It is strange that this plant is called the Traveller’s Palm given that it is neither a palm nor helpful to travellers. It is, in fact, a bird-of-paradise plant similar to those found in central Africa, that are used for ornamental purposes in gardens with hot climates. The idea that it is helpful to travellers comes from the thought that water can be stored in the stems of the fronds, and therefore drunk by thirsty explorers. Sadly, the water in the stems of these plants is cloudy and dangerous to drink without purification, and it is likely that someone who drank it would lose more water from vomiting than they gained from drinking it.
Bizarre as the plant may seem, it certainly strikes an imposing figure in the forests and jungles of Madagascar, where it is thriving. I quite look forward to seeing this plant when it is fully mature.