© Geoff Nichols
This graceful palm with its characteristic slender, leaning stems
is a feature of riverine bush and forest in the eastern parts of
the country. It is almost always associated with water, either on
riverbanks or in swamps.
reclinata can reach up to 12 m but is most often between 3 and
6 m. It may be either single or multi-stemmed, sometimes forming
a dense, bushy clump. The leaves are arching, bright green fronds
and form crowns at the top of the stems. The old fronds remain on
the tree and become 'petticoats' as they hang straight down beneath
the crown. The flowers appear during August, September and October.
Male and female plants are separate. The inflorescences form attractive
yellow sprays. Male flowers produce masses of pollen which is released
in clouds. The orange-brown fruits are borne during February, March
and April. They are oval in shape and smaller than the commercial
date. It is a protected tree in South Africa.
The wild date palm grows naturally from the Eastern Cape extending
as far north as Egypt. Its natural habitat is riverbanks and swamps,
although it is occasionally found in grasslands if the water table
is high enough. The roots are usually in water, therefore it would
be tolerant of waterlogged conditions in cultivation. It will also
take light frost but this will most likely affect the ultimate shape,
making the palm dense and bushy rather than tall and elegant.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Phoenix is the Greek name for the date palm and reclinata
is Latin for bending down, and refers to the arching fronds. The
wild date palm is a relative of the commercial date palm, P.
dactylifera which probably originates in North Africa and the
Arabian Penninsula . The Canary Island palm (P. canariensis)
is often seen in older gardens in South Africa and the dwarf date
palm (P. roebelenii from Laos in the Far East) is grown as
a container plant. Phoenix palms characteristically have sharp spines
on the basal portion of the fronds. These are leaflets which have
changed, taking on a protective function.
Birds, monkeys and baboons eat the ripe fruit. Bushpig, nyala and
bushbuck feed on fallen fruit. This is possibly a means of seed
dispersal. The leaves are eaten by the palm-tree nightfighter butterfly
Uses and cultural aspects
The leaves are used to make mats, baskets and hats. Brooms for sweeping
around rural dwellings are made from the dried inflorescences. The
midrib of the frond is used to construct fish enclosures (kraals).
Palm wine is made from the sap. The heart of the crown is sometimes
eaten by people. Children enjoy the gum produced by the roots. Special
skirts made from the leaves are worn by Xhosa boys when undergoing
their initiation rites. The fruits are edible and apparently taste
quite similar to the commercial date. The spines apparently have
traditional medicinal use.
© Geoff Nichols
Growing Phoenix reclinata
This palm could be used as a specimen tree in a large garden with
sweeping lawns. It may also form part of a dense wildlife garden
planting. When fruiting, it will attract birds and other animals
if they are in the vicinity. In smaller gardens ensure that the
plant is given sufficient space to spread. When young it could be
used as a container plant. As mentioned before, the wild date will
tolerate light frost and waterlogged conditions. In colder areas
the young plants will need protection from frost for the first few
For propagation by seed, mature fruit should be selected and all
the pulp removed. Sow in a mix of river sand and compost. The seeds
can either be pressed gently into the medium or covered lightly.
Do not allow the medium to dry out. Germination should begin after
about a month. Transplanting can be carried out when the first leaf
is 50 mm long. Young plants grow quite slowly and will need slow
release fertilizer in the growth medium. For vegetative propagation,
suckers from an adult plant can also be removed and planted.
The wild date is best planted in full sun but does grow in light
shade. The growth rate is variable, depending on a good water supply
which will also probably affect the ultimate size and shape of the
References and further reading
- Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of
southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
- Ellison, D. & Ellison, A. 2001. Cultivated palms of the
world. Briza Publications, Pretoria
- Joffe, P. 2001. Creative gardening with indigenous plants.
A South African guide. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
- Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa,
vol. 1. Balkema, Cape Town.
- Schmidt, E., Lötter, M. et al. 2002. Trees and shrubs
of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Jacana, Johannesburg.
- Venter, F. & Venter, J-A. 1996. Making the most of indigenous
trees. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden