Fan Palm: Image of the Rainforest

Skyrail Nature Diary: September 2005

A frequent feature in local resort gardens and tourism brochures is the Australian Fan Palm (Licuala ramsayi).

This unique and versatile palm derives its common name from the appearance of its pleated leaf segments, which combine to create the shape of a Chinese fan. These leaves grow up to two metres wide and are clearly distinguishable from the common ‘feather’ palm leaves that adorn other rainforest palms.

Like many rainforest species, the Australian Fan Palm is particularly slow-growing. It is however, considered a rainforest emergent, and a single trunk can grow up to 20 metres in height to break through the rainforest canopy with a spectacular crown of circular leaves.

It is this image, of Fan Palm leaves silhouetted against blue skies, that makes this species popular with photographers and, combined with its localised area of natural occurrence, a well-known feature of Australia’s Tropical Rainforests.

Various species of the Licuala genus can be found throughout Asia and the South Pacific, but the Australian Fan Palm is endemic to Tropical North Queensland and is the only member of this genus to exist in Australia.

The Australian Fan Palm was originally widespread throughout North Queensland, but land clearing has reduced its home range to scattered patches along the coastal plains and foothills between Tully and Cape York Peninsula.

Despite claiming status as a tropical plant, the Australian Fan Palm is also one of the most cold-tolerant species of the Licuala genus. This palm thrives in swampy soils with low fertility, and begins life in areas of heavy shade, conditions which typify the environment in Australia’s Tropical Rainforests.

The best way to see the various palm species of Australia’s Tropical Rainforests is on Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Guests travel just metres above the rainforest canopy in Skyrail’s six person gondola cabins before alighting at Skyrail’s mid-stations to explore and learn more from the forest floor.