Phoenix roebelenii O'Brien, Gard. Chron. , III, 6: 475 (1889)

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Map uses TDWG level 3 distributions (
China South-Central present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Laos present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Vietnam present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Northern Laos (Nam Ou valley), Vietnam (Upper Black R. region near Lai-Chau), and southern China (Xisuangbanna region of Yunnan), most notably along the banks of the R. Mekong. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A

Biology And Ecology

  • Closely associated with riverside or cliff habitats where it grows as a rheophyte. The rheophytic habit is rare within the palm family (Dransfield 1992). The clustering habit of R roebelenii may help it to survive flooding. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A


  • A naturally restricted distribution, habitat loss and a horticultural trade in wild-collected plants may mean that the wild populations of P. roebelenii merit 'vulnerable' status, but further studies are needed. Demand for P. roebelenii as an ornamental is mostly met through seeds and offshoots from cultivated plants. However, Barrow (1994) suggested that collection of mature palms from the wild poses an increasing threat. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A

Common Name

  • THAILAND. Paam sipsong pannaa (Xishuangbanna palm), [Smitinand (1948)]. VIETNAM. Cha rang (Moyenne Region), [Magalon (1930)]. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A


  • Since its introduction to Europe, P. roebelenii has become a popular and widely cultivated ornamental palm and is now found in private and botanical gardens around the world. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A


  • Clustering palms (often solitary in cultivation), forming clumps with stemless plants suckering at base of taller stems. Stem 1 - 2 m (rarely 3 m) high, without sheaths to 10 cm in diam., erect or twisted, pale, becoming smooth with age, marked with diamond-shaped persistent leaf bases each with a central bump of remnant vascular tissue; stem base developed with a root boss; roots occasionally emerging from stem above ground level. Leaves arching, 1 - 1.5 (2) m long; pseudopetiole to c. 50 cm long; leaf sheath reddish-brown, fibrous; acanthophylls arranged singly or paired, c. 12 on each side of rachis, orange-green, to 8 cm long; leaflets regularly arranged, opposite, c. 25 - 50 on each side of rachis, linear, concolorous, deep green, often flaccid, to 40 x 1.2 cm; lamina with discontinuous white scurfy ramenta along abaxial veins and midrib, almost totally covering abaxial surface of unexpanded (sword) leaves. Staminate inflorescences pendulous; prophyll coriaceous, two-keeled, splitting once abaxially between keels, c. 30- 60 cm long; peduncle to 30 cm long; rachillae 7- 20 cm long. Staminate flowers with calyx a three-pointed cupule, 1.2 mm high, yellow- white; petals pale yellow-white with acuminate apices and with jagged margins, 7 - 8 x 2 - 2.5 mm; anthers 3.5 - 4 mm long. Pistillate inflorescences erect, arching as fruits ripen, up to 35 cm long; prophyll coriaceous, two-keeled, to 35 cm long x c. 5 cm wide, splitting once adaxially between keels to reveal inflorescence; peduncle green, to c. 30 x 3 cm; rachillae with bulbous bases, orange-green, occasionally branched to one order, subtended by papery bracts (c. 4 cm long). Pistillate flowers pale green, arranged in distal three quarters of rachilla, subtended by papery bracts to 5 mm long; calyx a three-pointed cupule, thickened and ridged up to apices, striate, 2 - 2.5 mm high; petals 3.5 x 4 mm with acute apices; generally only one carpel reaching maturity. Fruits obovoid, with persistent perianth, maturing from dark green to purplish brown, 13 - 18 x 6 - 7 mm; stigmatic remains apical, 1 mm long, orange- brown, often recurved. Seed narrowly elongate, terete, with rounded apices, 7 - 3 mm; embryo lateral opposite raphe; endosperm homogeneous. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A

Materials Examined

  • CHINA. Yunnan, banks of Mekong R., Chiu-lung Chiang, 23 Feb. 1922 (photo.), Rock 2531 (E!). LAOS. R. Mekong, Oct. 1889 (ster.), O'Brien s.n. (K!, holotype); (ster.), Magalon 28 (P!). VIETNAM. no precise locality, (pist.), Balansa 4471 (FI-B!, P!), (ster.) Balansa 4877 (FI-B!, K!, P!). (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A


    A. Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae)
    B. World Checklist of Arecaceae