Scientific name: Livistona australis
Plant type: Palm
Environment: Full sun
Bloom: White to cream clusters of small flowers
Uses: Specimen plant
The cabbage tree (Livistona australis) is a large palm tree from Australia. It is native to the eastern portion of the continent in the states of Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales. It has also naturalized on other islands in the south Pacific. The species is the southernmost palm native to Australia and the second most southern palm in the world.
In Australia Livistona australis grows in moist areas, forests, and rainforests, at elevations from sea level to 1000 m. It is most abundant in swampy areas where it can form dense stands. In these habitats it can be a dominant part of the canopy growing to heights of over 80 ft.
The Aboriginal people in Australia would eat the new growth of the plant in addition to the heart of the trunk. The English common name cabbage tree was used to describe many different plants where the new growth was edible by English settlers and has stuck with Livistona australis.
Unfortunately, harvesting the edible new growth can kill the plant. The entire wild population of Livistona australis has not been assessed to determine its conservation status, however in the state of Victoria the Livistona australis population is considered to be vulnerable. A recent study concluded that the species is not currently endangered, but it could become so due to continued outside threats.
The leaves of the palm are utilized for a variety of uses from thatching roofs to making furniture, baskets, and hats. Hats made from Livistona australis leaves are known as cabbage tree hats and were popular with early European settlers seeking protection from the sun. The hats are notable as an early example of dress made entirely from Australian materials during the colonial era.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text, Profile, and Photos by Victoria Stewart