Livistona chinensis

Today’s Botany Photo of the Day once again comes from the pages of the album that Douglas Justice collected on his recent trip through China. Stephen Coughlin provides his third entry.

In its native tropical, sub-tropical, and warm temperate habitats of coastal Asia (China, Taiwan, and southern Japan), Livistona chinensis—the Chinese fan palm—often reaches upwards of 15 metres (45 feet). At the trunk’s apex, the characteristically costapalmate (and scroll down here ) green leaves (which can grow to a diameter of 5 metres) collapse back toward the earth like layers of fountain water cascading softly downward from the peak of their trajectory. For this reason, many happily refer to the species as the fountain palm, and just as the figure of its namesake evokes a sense of sweet respite and replenishment, the species itself produces raw materials for human nourishment and raiment, and it forms a cool canopy through which only cracks of sunlight can penetrate. While it does indeed provide humans and animals with a measure of protection from the heat of the tropical sun, L. chinensis guards itself against the baleful consequences of drought by way of a long tap root that generally extends to the cool, moist depths of 2 metres. Of course, today the palm is a popular domestic and commercial plant that rarely confronts the adverse soil and climate conditions against which it is so hardy: in the warmer parts of North America, it is generally sited in shopping mall pots and alongside manicured highways or caring homes.

Botanical gardens contain multitudes in several senses: beyond the heterogeneity of visible and invisible life forms that inhabit or make use of this land, that is, the garden is by nature home to a broad spectrum of mood and ambience. Odd moments find one immersed in a tour group or a research party, while others are steeped in the tranquility and solitude of an isolated corner or an often overlooked path. Though it was taken in the South China Botanical Garden, which, as a rule, hums with the frantic energy of practical human endeavor and association, this photo seems to suggest the latter form of experience—of leaving the heat, light, and din of the highway and the beaten path behind for the serene terrain of whispers, shadows, and the unexpected.

Livistona Chinesis

12 responses to “Livistona chinensis”

  1. Meg Bernstein

    I can feel the breeze moving through the fronds.

  2. Island Jim

    Perhaps my favorite palm–after Bismarckia noblis, that is.

  3. Sue in Bremerton

    You people brag about your gardens, and make me very sad that I can’t visit them. I wish you would make a virtual tour thing about some of them from time to time. I would love to see more than just the one flower, bush, tree, plant, etc
    But, for now I am very happy that you share what you do. What a wonderful present I get every day, and sometimes I just want to get something for my own yard.
    Thanks for this entry today. It would be very interesting to watch it grow. Perhaps the leaves at the bottom help keep it healthy and prevent evaporation..

  4. Eric in SF

    Love the palm canopy – I bet it’s a great place to enjoy the day.

  5. Annie Morgan

    Now that the temperature has begun to rise (as of this afternoon), the sight of a dark green fan palm is very cooling. Again, delightfully written.

  6. Kevin Kubeck

    I have one specimen in my personal collection that I planted out in the garden this year (Vancouver, Canada). Although touted as a “cold” hardier palm mostly I did it because I was tired of lancing myself on the sharp barbs present on the petiole.

  7. elizabeth a airhart

    the temperture here in my part of
    florida was 99 degrees the palms
    are most welcome in our puplic gardens
    the shade is most welcome and a drink
    sue you tube has any number of videos
    about the ubc gardens vistors staff
    events
    mr justice and eric the nitobe garden is
    lovely and the walkway is so high

  8. Justin

    Beautiful palm!
    I don’t see any bromeliads or other epiphytes that have attached themselves along the trunk, as is the case with so many other palms. From this photo, the bark doesn’t appear to be quite suitable to epiphyte habitation. What’s going on here?

  9. Eric in SF

    These individuals are growing a botanical garden in a region of China that’s heavily industrialized. My educated guess is that there’s very little of the original habitat left, particularly the epiphytes. Perhaps Douglas could chime in with his recollection of the ‘natural’ areas in this part of China – were there epiphytes?

  10. Douglas Justice

    No. No epiphytes, which, come to think of it is a bit odd given the heat and humidity. It didn’t seem particularly polluted in Guangzhou, but it could have been in the recent past. Motorbikes are often electric, cars are almost all very modern and we saw few trucks or buses that spewed dirty diesel smoke. I’d been warned that the city was crowded and uninteresting, but I found it otherwise. Actually quite beautiful in spots. It’s certainly big (third largest city in China), and while not as English language-friendly as Hong Kong, I’d go back to explore some more. Honestly, I’d go back just for the South China Botanical Garden.

  11. Lisa Greene

    The Chinese fan palm is one of the worst invasive plants in Bermuda (a sub-tropical island in the western Atlantic). It is a serious threat to our endemic Sabal bermudana and to other plants as well. Do your research before you introduce this plant to your garden/area!
    I was surprised to hear the palm described as characteristically costapalmate because, on the upper surface of the frond, the leaf petiole does not extend into the leaf. However it does if you look at the underside of the leaf.
    Can anyone clarify this for me?

  12. Tom

    Does anyone know if the blue fruits on this palm are edible? I can’t find any info anywhere. TIA, Tom

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