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Livistona australis (R. Br.) Mart. 1838
pronounced: liv-iss-TOH-nuh oss-TRAH-liss
(Arecaceae — the palm family)
common name: Cabbage Tree Palm
This is the most common native palm species of the east coast of Australia, and the one after which the Palm Island group was named by Captain Cook in 1770. The palm is very widely distributed through our lowland forests and swamps, and, being tolerant of frost, grows further south than any other Australian native palm. The ones pictured are on the West Point Road near the Cockle Bay turnoff.
Livistona is named for Patrick Murray, 17th century Baron of Livingstone, whose plants became the foundation of the Edinburgh Botanic Garden; australis means ‘southern’ .
The growing tip of the plant, known as the ‘cabbage’, was eaten either uncooked or roasted by Aborigines and early settlers; but unfortunately this killed the tree, as it cannot re-grow from another point.
This palm can grow into a large tree, up to 30m high. It is hardy, likes lots of water and lots of sun. It is wind and salt tolerant. The trunk is slender and grey, with fissures and rings. The leaves are a typical fan shape, to about 4 m long, partially divided into numerous segments, and the stalks are provided with sharp spikes on the edges; but the points of the leaves droop in mature plants. In spring and early summer the cabbage tree palm bears flower spikes with sprigs of creamy white flowers. The fruit is red, turning black, up to about 1.5 cm in diameter. The fruits take a long time to ripen, and a long time to germinate. They germinate better if they are peeled before planting.
These palms are well-represented on Magnetic Island, both naturally growing and planted in gardens. Aboriginal peoples in various parts of Australia used the leaves for roof thatch and for basket making, and made shallow bag-like nets from the bark fibres.
The first thing that comes to my mind when thinking of this palm is the Cabbage Tree hat. Not only were crude hats made by the early European settlers, woven from untreated strips of the fronds, but there was a small industry making quite sophisticated hats. The fronds were first boiled, then dried and afterwards bleached, and cut up into very thin strips, which were finely woven into ladies’ and gentlemen’s hats, usually with a high tapering domed crown and a wide, flat brim. They were often provided with a hat-band of coarser plaiting with zigzag border edges. The texture of these hats was not unlike that of Panama hats, which are made from Carludovica palmata, the Panama-hat palm.
Livistona palms are food plants for a few Lepidoptera caterpillars, including:
Photographs taken near the West Point road 2008, 2014
Page last updated 21st January 2018