Kosi Palm

Scientific Name
Raphia australis Oberm. & Strey
Higher Classification
Common Names
Giant Palm (e), Kosi Palm (e), Kosi-palm (a), Umvuma (z)
National Status
Status and Criteria
Vulnerable D2
Assessment Date
C.R. Scott-Shaw, L. von Staden, J.E. Victor & A.E. van Wyk
Known from two locations in South Africa where it is potentially threatened by habitat loss to subsistence agriculture and harvesting for building materials. The majority of this taxon's range occurs in southern Mozambique, where it is known from six locations. There is a disjunction of over 200 kilometres between the Kosi Bay subpopulation and the next closest subpopulation in Mozambique which occurs in the Marracuene District north of Maputo. The portion of the population occurring in Mozambique is declining due to cultivation for subsistence agriculture. The South African assessment of Vulnerable is therefore not adjusted following IUCN regional assessment procedures (IUCN 2003).
Not endemic to South Africa
Provincial distribution
Kosi Bay and Mozambique.
Habitat and Ecology
Major system
Major habitats
Northern Coastal Forest, Swamp Forest, Subtropical Dune Thicket, Maputaland Coastal Belt, Subtropical Freshwater Wetlands
Swamp forest, on seasonally inundated coastal dunes.
The rachides of palm fronds, which are often longer than 10 m and considered the longest leaves in the plant kingdom (Herbert 1989), are used as building materials for huts and rafts, mainly in Mozambique (Obermeyer and Strey 1969, Glen 2004). Over-exploitation of the palms for building materials is a potential threat, but harvesting is at present well managed (C.R. Scott-Shaw pers. comm.). There is some ongoing utilization of natural resources within parts of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Reserve, such as at Lake Sibaya, but not yet at Kosi Bay. Raphia australis individuals reach maturity after 25-35 years, when they flower and produce seed only once and then die (Herbert 1989). If palms were to be cut down for any reason (harvesting or clearing for agriculture) before they reach maturity, they could rapidly decline to extinction within one generation as there will be no seed from which they could re-establish.

The only wild subpopulation of this species in South Africa occurs at Kosi Bay. The Raphia grove at Mtunzini, although an introduced subpopulation, was declared a national monument in 1942 (Peckham and Van Jaarsveld 1989). More palms were also introduced by Mr. Ian Garland on his farm Twinstreams, just outside Mtunzini (Peckham and Van Jaarsveld 1989).

Population trend
Protected in the Kosi Bay section of the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Nature Reserve.
Raphia australis palms are the preferred habitat of the palmnut vulture (Gypohierax angolensis), which feed on the fruits and nest in the palms (Pooley 1993, Herbert 1989).
Assessment History
Taxon assessed
Status and Criteria
Citation/Red List version
Raphia australis Oberm. & StreyVU D2Raimondo et al. (2009)
Raphia australis Oberm. & StreyVU Scott-Shaw (1999)
Raphia australis Oberm. & StreyRare Hilton-Taylor (1996)
Raphia australis Oberm. & StreyVulnerable Hall et al. (1980)

Boon, R. 2010. Pooley's Trees of eastern South Africa. Flora and Fauna Publications Trust, Durban.

Hall, A.V., De Winter, M., De Winter, B. and Van Oosterhout, S.A.M. 1980. Threatened plants of southern Africa. South African National Scienctific Programmes Report 45. CSIR, Pretoria.

Hilton-Taylor, C. 1996. Red data list of southern African plants. Strelitzia 4. South African National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.

IUCN. 2003. Guidelines for application of IUCN Red List Criteria at regional levels. Version 3.0. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Obermeyer, A.A. and Strey, R.G. 1969. A new species of Raphia from northern Zululand and southern Mozambique. Bothalia 10(1):29-37.

Raimondo, D., von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. and Manyama, P.A. 2009. Red List of South African Plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.

Scott-Shaw, C.R. 1999. Rare and threatened plants of KwaZulu-Natal and neighbouring regions. KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service, Pietermaritzburg.

Scott-Shaw, C.R., von Staden, L., Victor, J.E. & van Wyk, A.E. 2016. Raphia australis Oberm. & Strey. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2017.1. Accessed on 2019/08/22

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Distribution map

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