Ravenala madagascariensis, commonly known as Traveller's Tree or Traveller's Palm, is a species of plant from Madagascar. It is not a true palm (family Arecaceae) but a member of the bird-of-paradise family, Strelitziaceae. Ravenala madagascariensis is the sole member of the genus Ravenala, and is closely related to the southern African genus Strelitzia and the South American genus Phenakospermum. Some older classifications include these genera in the banana family (Musaceae). Although it is usually considered to be a single species, four different forms have been distinguished.
It has been given the name "traveller's palm" because the sheaths of the stems hold rainwater, which supposedly could be used as an emergency drinking supply for needy travellers. However, the water inside the plant is murky, black and smelly and should not be consumed without purification. Another plausible reason for its name is that the fan tends to grow in a north-south line, providing a crude compass.
The enormous paddle-shaped leaves are borne on long petioles, in a distinctive fan shape aligned in a single plane. The large white flowers are structurally similar to those of its relatives, the bird-of-paradise flowers Strelitzia reginae and Strelitzia nicolai, but are generally considered less attractive, with a green bract. In tropical and subtropical regions, the plant is widely cultivated for its distinctive habit and foliage. As the plant grows older, it progressively loses the lowest or oldest leaves and reveals a sturdy grey trunk.
Ruffed lemurs are a known pollinator of this plant, and given the size and structure of the inflorescences, as well as the lemur's selectivity, method of feeding, and long muzzle, this relationship is thought to have coevolved.
The plant requires a sunny spot (not full sun until it is larger). It responds well to fertiliser, especially if it is high in nitrogen during the growing season. This produces better growth and foliage. The plant grows to an average height of 7 m (23 ft) and requires moderate water.
- Patrick Blanc, Nelson Rabenandrianina, Annette Hladik, and Claude Marcel Hladik (1999). "Les formes sympatriques et allopatriques du genre Ravenala dans les forêts et les milieux ouverts de l'est de Madagascar". Revue d'Ecologie, Terre et Vie 54: 201–223.
- P. Blanc, A. Hladik, N. Rabenandrianina, J.S. Robert and C.M. Hladik (2003). "Strelitziaceae: The variants of Ravenala in natural and anthropogenic habitats". In Goodman, S.M. & Benstead, J. The Natural History of Madagascar. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London. pp. 472–476.
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