Graceful licuala
Published on: Sunday, March 29, 2020
By: Eskay Ong
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It’s sayonara to a once-lovely plant due to some lazy fellas failing to apply regularly.
THERE are many varieties of ornamental palms in cultivation in gardens, parks and open spaces throughout the world today.  Each kind has its own peculiar characteristics and styles, and thus they do appear to be attractive, winsome and appealing to a great number of people everywhere.

However, the one palm that is certainly one of the most graceful and beautiful is the Licuala Palm.  Sometimes, people call it Licuala Fan Palm because of the shape of the leaves.  

At other times, it is simply known as the Licuala, although many other palms also carry the same genus name.  

Whatever it is, the palm is grown mainly for the beauty of its foliage, with its outstanding quality brilliantly standing out if set in high quality pots and placed at strategic spots within or outside any building. 

As such, there aren’t very many varieties of palms that can outshine it. Being a foliage ornamental, the licuala palm can most beneficially be placed either indoors, or else outside in the garden. 

 If it is placed under the fiery sun, there is a greater tendency for sunscorching of the leaves.  Therefore, care has to be exercised when reshuffling the palm around several locations since the leaves are more delicate.  

And if it has to be placed outdoors, it is best to find a place in which the plant can receive some form of shade for at least a part of the day.  Otherwise, it has to be slowly toughened to acclimatise it to the harsh outdoor weather before placing it under the heat of the sun.  

Compared to most other palms, the licuala palm is certainly more delicate and sensitive to the sun’s rays.  So there is a need to be more careful when handling the lovely palm.

Varieties of the licuala palm

There are a number of varieties of licuala palms that are used as ornamentals.  Some of these varieties include Licuala grandis, Licuala peltata, Licuala muelleri and Licuala spinosa.  

By and large, the most commonly-seen variety appears to be Licuala grandis, the graceful elegant palm that is neither too tall nor too short.  It is easy to grow and easier still to maintain without really any need for hardwork or trouble.

In contrast, Licuala spinosa is less popular because of the existence of a lot of spines which serve to act as a deterrent to animals and other uncouth and uncultured people whose itchy hands are fond of breaking or damaging the plant for reasons best known to them.  

Another reason why Licuala spinosa is less widely cultivated is because they often look very unkempt and dishevelled as they advance in age in the same way that quite a number of senior folks tend to disregard the need for personal grooming even though they may still be as young as octogenarians or nonagenarians.

What is a licuala palm?

The Licuala Palm, which is commonly known as Palas Palm or Ruffled Fan Palm, is a native of Vanuatu Island in the Pacific.  This is why it is also sometimes called Vanuatu Fan Palm.

Such common names generally refer to the variety Licuala grandis.  This type of palm is basically a tree palm of medium size with a height of around 5-8 metres or slightly more.  

It grows in a vertical manner with a straight, slim trunk with a diameter of 10-15 cm at 10 years of age.  As it advances in age, most of the lower leave dry and shrivel up and fall to the ground.  

All licualas that are domesticated and constrained within containers are truly slow growers and may take many years just to reach a metre of clear trunk.  

This allows the owner to fully enjoy the plant as it grows up, just like parents having happy days enjoying the time seeing their kids grow up.

The leaves of the licuala palm are located at the top of the trunk in the form of a crown.  

This radiates outwards and at the same time, they spiral upwards with the youngest leaves at the top and the older ones at the lowest level of the crown.  

Each leaf is fan-shaped with a relatively fine, serrated edge, which is in total contrast to that of the ordinary fan palm in which the leaves, although also fan-shaped, have edges that are deeply divided into long, finger-like segments.

Just as in the Livistona fan palm, the licuala palm also has thorns but these are rather few in number and very fine and short, unlike the large and coarse thorns of the former.  

Thorns of the licuala palm are usually found in the mid-section of the leaf stalk, and unless taken note of, they are likely to miss the attention of everyone.

The licuala palm normally makes very good quality, beautiful pot plants.  

They may grow slimmer and sleeker indoors compared to those in the outdoors.  As such, they always look more elegant than many other plants or parts of plants especially the fat, bulging and plump water hyacinth leaves.  

When small, they serve the most attractive purpose if placed indoors, but as it grows taller and bigger, it should be placed outdoors.  T

he transition from indoors to outdoors should be done very carefully to prevent damage to the foliage as a result of sunscorch.  When it grows too tall to be stable after 5-10 years, it should finally be grown on the ground.

Growing licuala palms

Licuala palms can be obtained easily by purchasing the young seedlings for a few ringgit each but that will send many gardening enthusiasts into a prolonged session of droopy eyes and yawning mouths.  

This is because there is little fun doing things in this way unless it gets started beginning from the bottom level up, meaning to say that it involves securing the seeds, treating them and then sowing them before seeing the seedlings growing up successfully.

There are many mature licuala palms everywhere which tend to regularly produce a lot of seeds.  Each of the seeds is about 1 cm in diameter and they hang in clusters prominently below the crown.  

As they are of a bright orange colour when ripe, they tend to attract a number of birds as well some grabbing human hands, but it is a good idea to collect those that have fallen to the ground.  

Over-ripe fruits may turn dark brown and then black, after which they fall to the ground unwanted, just like some old things.

Normally, fruits are best picked off the palm when they are orange or red in colour.  The soft mesocarp should be removed and the seed within may be sown in a germination medium. 

 The first seedling may emerge as early as two weeks while some may take longer than five weeks.

Caring for the licuala palm

Unless sufficiently hardened, licuala palms should not be completely exposed to the sun to prevent damage to the foliage.  

Even when moving the plant around especially if they are in pots, care should be taken to avoid sudden exposure.

Watering is very essential for this kind of palm, and as such, it should be carried out as often as is necessary.  

Licualas may also succumb to dry conditions easily, and when this happens, the entire plant dries out quite rapidly.  However, overwatering in a thick, heavy clayey soil is just as bad, as the collar and roots may rot away.

Regular pruning of leaves is necessary to keep the palm in a neat, trim and presentable condition.  

This is because a few leaves that have turned brown may sometimes take longer to drop and this may cause some little pests to hide inside besides tarnishing the nice image of the palm.

Where pests and diseases are concerned, the licuala palm actually has very few problems.  

Occasionally, a few old grasshoppers may sit around idling away their time or having a siesta or trying to chew at a few leaves but as there are more tender leaves everywhere, the smart ones will not waste their time ruining their teeth trying to chew up a tough and fibrous palm leaf. 

 On the other hand, little nasty critters and suckers such as mealy bugs and red spider mites may sometimes become a nuisance especially if they are allowed the freedom to breed out of control and setting up illegal colonies everywhere.  

This is the time to go for the attack mode by using a paintbrush dipped in a suitable surfactant to brush off the colonies of such critters.  A second-round may be necessary after 5-7 days to ensure even the survivors are wiped out.

For those palms that are placed indoors, cleaning of the foliage is essential to remove dust or other filth that could have accumulated on the surface after a period of time. 

 This is done by using a piece of soft cloth or sponge dipped in a mild detergent to wipe the leaves.  The use of old sacks, canvas or tarpaulins are absolute no-nos.

Repotting is rarely necessary unless it has reached 5-7 years.  Large pots or planters can sustain the palm for even longer than that.  

However, to extend the life of the palm in the pot, the top layer of the soil may be earthed-up or replenished with enriched fresh topsoil.  

In this way, it is possible to add a few more years of pot life and thus save quite a lot of effort and time, which could also be gainfully used in longer rest sessions of snacking and aramaitiiiing.

- The writer can be reached at

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