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Acanthophoenix rubra (Bory) H.Wendl.

Fl. Serres Jard. Eur. 16: 181 (1867).
Arecaceae (Palmae)
Areca rubra Bory (1804), Acanthophoenix crinita (Bory) H.Wendl. (1867).
Vernacular names
Barbel palm, red palm, Mascarene Islands cabbage palm (En). Palmiste rouge, palmiste bourre, palmiste des bois, palmiste des hauts, palmiste épineux, palmiste zépines, palmiste piquant (Fr).
Origin and geographic distribution
Acanthophoenix rubra is endemic to Réunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues.
The palm heart (palm cabbage) is edible and much appreciated in Réunion and Mauritius as a delicacy. A decoction of the roots is used as a diuretic. Acanthophoenix rubra is cultivated as an ornamental, also outside its natural range.
The palm heart of Acanthophoenix rubra is very susceptible to enzymatic browning, caused by polyphenol oxidases, especially catecholases.
Palm with solitary trunk up to 12 m tall and up to 18 cm in diameter, sometimes enlarged at base. Leaves c. 10 in crown, arranged spirally, up to 3 m long, pinnately compound; sheath 30–60 cm long, red turning brown at maturity, with numerous spines up to 11 cm long and shedding at maturity; petiole up to 30 cm long, often spiny; leaflets in 25–65 pairs, up to 105 cm × 4 cm, with bristles on midrib above. Inflorescence below the leaves, up to 50 cm long, peduncle short, branches long and pendulous, unarmed or with dark-brown spines up to 15 cm long. Flowers unisexual, 3-merous, white or cream-coloured, arranged in triads of 2 male flowers and 1 female flower; male flowers with imbricate sepals c. 2 mm long, valvate petals up to 8 mm long and (4–)6–12 stamens; female flowers with imbricate sepals c. 3 mm long, imbricate petals up to 5 mm long, 6–9 small staminodes and superior, 1-celled ovary. Fruit an ellipsoid to globose drupe up to 1 cm long, 1-seeded. Seed globose, c. 7 mm in diameter, brown; endosperm homogeneous.
Acanthophoenix comprises a single but variable species.
Acanthophoenix rubra occurs in the upland mixed moist forest and heath sites of Mauritius above 500 m altitude. In Réunion it grows at 500–1500 m altitude. It is reported to tolerate light frost.
Acanthophoenix rubra is propagated by seed. It is cultivated both in Réunion and Mauritius for its palm heart and as an ornamental. It is quite easy to grow, but should be protected from full sunlight when young. Weed control is essential in the early stages of development. Fairly large amounts of organic matter in the soil stimulate growth. Acanthophoenix rubra has been tested in on-farm diversification programmes in the north-eastern highlands of Réunion.
Genetic resources and breeding
Wild Acanthophoenix rubra was common in the past, but has become rare in Mauritius due to uncontrolled collection of palm heart. In Réunion it also became rare because of the establishment of sugarcane plantations and palm heart collection. The total natural population is estimated at about 1300 palms. Only about 100 reproductive individuals are present in Mauritius, and most of them are quite isolated. Natural regeneration seems poor. Introduced animals, e.g. rats, snails (Achatina spp.) and domestic pigs, are predators of the fruits and seedlings. Acanthophoenix rubra is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. A large population has been located on Rodrigues and founder palms for a restoration programme are being identified. Barbel palm is common in cultivation as an ornamental in Mauritius and Réunion and is occasionally grown elsewhere.
Palm heart production on a commercial scale is an option if the plantations can be protected effectively until the commercially interesting age. The single stem habit, however, is a major drawback. Other palms are being tested on an experimental scale in Réunion as possible replacements for Acanthophoenix rubra:Euterpe oleracea Mart. (assai palm) and Bactris gasipaes Kunth (pejibaye or peach palm), both with higher growth rates and with the great advantage of being palms with clustering stems. Acanthophoenix rubra is an attractive ornamental palm, with its dark red spiny leaf bases. It is quite rare in international trade and a real collector’s item. Seed collection should be restricted to cultivated plants.
Major references
• Gurib-Fakim, A., 2002. Mauritius through its medicinal plants; towards a better understanding of medicinal plants of the Indian Ocean Islands. Editions Le Printemps, Vacoas, Mauritius. 216 pp.
• Gurib-Fakim, A., Guého, J. & Bissoondoyal, M.D., 1995. Plantes médicinales de Maurice, tome 1. Editions de l’Océan Indien, Rose-Hill, Mauritius. 495 pp.
• Maunder, M., Page, W., Mauremootoo, J., Payendee, R., Mungroo, Y., Maljkovic, A., Vericel, C. & Lyte, B., 2002. The decline and conservation management of the threatened endemic palms of the Mascarene Islands. Oryx 36(1): 56–65.
• Moore, H.E. & Guého, L.J., 1984. Palmiers. In: Bosser, J., Cadet, T., Guého, J. & Marais, W. (Editors). Flore des Mascareignes. Famille 189. The Sugar Industry Research Institute, Mauritius, l’Office de la Recherche Scientifique Outre-Mer, Paris, France & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 34 pp.
• Normand, F., 1999. Résultats d’une action de diversification fruitière menée a l’île de la Réunion. Fruits 54(4): 233–245.
Other references
• IUCN, 2002. 2002 IUCN red list of threatened species. [Internet] Accessed May 2003.
• Kew Conservation Staff, 1996. The biodiversity convention and Kew. Kew Scientist 10, Kew, Surrey, United Kingdom. [Internet] Accessed 14 October 2003.
• Palmarium, 2003. Choux palmistes exploités à l'île de La Réunion. [Internet] Palmiers du monde. Accessed 28 October 2003.
• Robert, C., Rouch, C. & Cadet, F., 1997. Inhibition of palmito (Acanthophoenix rubra) polyphenol oxidase by carboxylic acids. Food Chemistry 59(3): 355–360.
• Tuley, P., 1995. The palms of Africa. The Trendrine Press, St. Ives, United Kingdom. 189 pp.
• Uhl, N.W. & Dransfield, J., 1987. Genera palmarum - a classification of palms based on the work of Harold E. Moore Jr. The L.H. Bailey Hortorium and the International Palm Society. Allen Press, Lawrence KS, United States. 610 pp.
W.J. van der Burg
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

G.J.H. Grubben
Boeckweijdt Consult, Prins Hendriklaan 24, 1401 AT Bussum, Netherlands
O.A. Denton
National Horticultural Research Institute, P.M.B. 5432, Idi-Ishin, Ibadan, Nigeria
Associate editors
C.-M. Messiaen
Bat. B 3, Résidence La Guirlande, 75, rue de Fontcarrade, 34070 Montpellier, France
R.R. Schippers
De Boeier 7, 3742 GD Baarn, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
van der Burg, W.J., 2004. Acanthophoenix rubra (Bory) H.Wendl. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>. Accessed .