Ravenala madagascariensis aka the traveler’s palm, is a striking and unusual plant but it is not truly a palm tree. It’s a Strelitzia, a relative of the bird of paradise.
It has leaves like those of a banana plant which arise from an underground corm.
|Each leaf is held on a long stem. These petioles emerge from the ground in the shape of a huge fan.Young plants look like a hand held fan or peacock’s tail sitting on the ground. In time, a trunk will form and elevate the “fan”.|
This is an older specimen than the one in the photo above. It has formed a trunk.
This picture was taken at the Maui Tropical Plantation in Hawaii.
The spaces between the stems fill with water when it rains which is why some people think the plant is called traveler’s tree.
Another explanation for the common name is that the plants leaves always face east to west and could help a disoriented traveler find his/her way.
Ravenala madagascariensis is a quick grower that will reach 40 feet under ideal growing conditions. Space plants at least 15 feet apart in the landscape and plant them in moist soil.
Traveler’s trees like sun, heat, and humidity. They don’t like to dry out.
Strong wind will shred the beautiful leaves.
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Mature plants will “bloom” producing a green inflorescence much like that of a heliconia only less showy because it blends in with the leaves. They are heavy feeders and can bloom year round in frost free zones if fed a balanced fertilizer every month. They are hardy down to 20 degrees F. but bloom will be restricted.
It is one of the most striking trees you can grow, in or out of bloom.
Plants can be grown singly or allowed to form clusters according to the gardener’s taste.
To keep your traveler’s palm from clustering, you’ll have to cut the suckers off at the level of the soil or dig them up. Deadhead the spent inflos to keep them from dropping seeds into the planting area.
They can be planted in containers which will restrict their growth and enable them to be grown indoors.
Their high light requirements can not easily be met in the average home. A greenhouse would be the best indoor environment for Ravenala madagascariensis.
The corms will send up suckers which you may dig up and move. Alternatively, if you allow the blooms to remain on the plant long enough, blue seeds will form. You can collect and plant these or just let the traveler’s palm reseed itself and dig up the seedlings later in the season.