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Raphia farinifera - (Gaertn.) Hyl.

Common Name Raffia Palm
Family Arecaceae
USDA hardiness 9-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Moist, swampy ground[200 ]. Riverine and groundwater forest[364 ]. Gallery forests, freshwater swamp forest, along river banks and in the western shoreline forests of Lake Victoria, at elevations from sea level to 2,500 metres[398 ].
Range Tropical Africa - Senegal to Cameroon; Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Madagascar.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (0 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Wet Soil Full sun
Raphia farinifera Raffia Palm

Raphia farinifera Raffia Palm


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Raphia farinifera or commonly known as Raffia Palm is a tropical palm tree endemic to Africa that grows up to 10 m tall and 60 cm in trunk diameter. It is a monocarpic species, which means that its individual stems only flower once then die. Flowering occurs when the tree is about 20-25 years old and it takes another 5 years from flowering to ripe fruit. The fruits are oblong to ovoid and covered with glossy golden brown scales. It can be eaten once boiled. The fruit also sources edible oil and edible seeds. Sap obtained from the trunk can be made into palm wine and sweet beverages. The stem, on the other hand, yield an edible starch. A commercially important and strong fiber known as raffia can be obtained from the leaves of this tree. It is used in weaving, thatching, hut construction, etc. Piassava, fibre obtained from the leaf sheaths, is used for making brooms and ropes. Lower surface of the leaves yield wax which can be used as a polish for boats and floors, and in candle production. Oil extract from fruit pulp and kernels is used in soap making. The wood is used for construction.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Raphia farinifera is an evergreen Tree growing to 25 m (82ft) by 18 m (59ft) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist or wet soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Metroxylon ruffia (Jacq.) Spreng. Raphia kirkii Engl. ex Becc. Raphia lyciosa Comm. ex Kunth Raphia

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Oil  Sap  Seed  Stem
Edible Uses: Drink  Oil  Sweetener

The sap from the trunk is fermented to make palm wine[297 , 317 ]. It is also used to make a sweet beverage[301 ]. The sap can be obtained either by cutting down the trunk and allowing the sap to drain out, or by boring a hole in the trunk near the apex[297 ]. An edible starch is obtained from the stem[301 , 317 ]. Fruit - boiled and eaten[297 , 317 ]. An oil is obtained from the fruit[297 ]. The boiled fruit pulp yields a yellow fat known as raphia butter - it has a good taste when fresh[301 ]. The fruits are crushed, water is added and the mixture boiled then left to cool. The floating oil is then skimmed off and used in cooking[398 ].. The seed is edible[301 , 317 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

None known

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Basketry  Broom  Buttons  Containers  Fibre  Furniture  Lighting  Oil  Raffia  Soap making  String  Thatching  Weaving  Wood

Raffia, which is widely used in weaving to make baskets, mats etc, is obtained from the leaflets of this plant[297 ]. The large midribs of the leaves, and the leaf stalks, are widely used by native people to construct the framework of houses, as poles for various uses and for making into furniture[297 ]. They can be split into strips for weaving into mats, baskets etc[297 ]. The leaves are used for thatching and weaving baskets, mats and hats[364 ]. The fibres obtained from the leaves are used as tying material and for weaving mats, hoods, bags, curtains etc[317 ]. The tough fibre (known as piassava) obtained from the leaf sheaths, is used for making brooms[297 ]. A tough rope can also be made from this fibre[297 ]. The fibre is derived from the cuticle of the leaves, which are harvested before fully expanded and peeled upon both sides. The thin strips of fibrous material thus obtained are afterwards divided into narrower strips by a kind of comb, according to the purpose for which they are to be used. It appears as flat, straw-coloured strips, about 12 - 18mm wide and from 90 - 120cm long. It is capable of being divided into fine threads. It can be used for delicately plaited goods, hats, mats for covering lloors, and for wrapping up goods. The loose strips are extensively used in place of Russian bast or tie bands by gardeners and nurserymen. More recently it has been woven into superior matting, tastefully coloured, and used instead of tapestry for covering walls in London houses[454 ]. The preparation of raffia is one of the most extensive industries in Madagascar. The men cut the palm leaves in the forests and bring them home for the women to complete the work. The fibre is cured the same day it is stripped[454 ] Among its native uses may be mentioned cordage and fishing nets[454 ]. Raphia wax, which is derived from the lower surface of the leaves, is used as a polish for boats and floors or is utilized for the production of candles[317 ]. The oil extracted from the boiled fruit pulp and the kernels of the fruits is used for the production of soap and stearin[317 ]. The shells of the fruits are made into snuffboxes or buttons[317 ]. Wood - used for construction[297 ]. The wood can be used after the sap has been allowed to drain[297 ].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Industrial Crop: Fiber  Industrial Crop: Wax  Management: Standard  Regional Crop  Staple Crop: Oil  Staple Crop: Sugar

A plant of the tropics, it is able to succeed in subtropical areas. Plants succeed in moist tropical climates where temperatures never fall below 10?c, the average annual rainfall is 1,500mm or more and the driest month has 25mm or more rain[297 ]. Requires a sunny position in a wet soil[314 ]. A monocarpic plant - growing for several years without flowering, then producing a massive inflorescence and dying after setting seed[200 ]. Flowering Time: Early spring, Late spring, Mid spring. Bloom Color: White. Spacing: 20-30 ft. (6-9 m) 30-40 ft. (9-12 m) over 40 ft. (12 m).

Carbon Farming

  • Industrial Crop: Fiber  Clothing, rugs, sheets, blankets etc. Currently, almost none of our fiber are produced from perennial crops but could be!
  • Industrial Crop: Wax  Water resistant, malleable substances. Currently, most commercial wax is made from paraffin - a fossil fuel.
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Regional Crop  These crops have been domesticated and cultivated regionally but have not been adopted elsewhere and are typically not traded globally, Examples in this broad category include perennial cottons and many nuts and staple fruits.
  • Staple Crop: Oil  (0-15 percent protein, 16+ percent oil). Some of these are consumed whole while others are exclusively pressed for oil. Annuals include canola, poppyseed, maize, cottonseed, sunflower, peanut. Perennials include high-oil fruits, seeds, and nuts, such as olive, coconut, avocado, oil palm, shea, pecan, and macadamia. Some perennial oil crops are consumed whole as fruits and nuts, while others are exclusively pressed for oil (and some are used fresh and for oil).
  • Staple Crop: Sugar  Perennial sugar crops include sugarcane and compare favorably to annuals.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - pre-soak for 24 hours in warm water and sow in containers. The seed requires several months to germinate[297 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Chiwale, Kibo, Mavale, Mkalilila, Mole, Mwaale, Mwale, Viwale, fomby, moronda, rafia, voampiso.

Angola; Benin; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Congo; Côte d'Ivoire; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Kenya; Madagascar; Malawi; Mozambique; Nigeria; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Tanzania, United Republic of; Togo; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe, Africa, Australia, Cameroon, Central Africa, Congo, East Africa, Fiji, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pacific, Southern Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, West Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Raphia hookeriIvory Coast Raffia PalmTree10.0 10-12 FLMHNMWe324
Raphia palma-pinusThatch palmTree10.0 10-12 FLMHSNMWe024
Raphia viniferaWine Raffia Palm. Wine PalmTree6.0 10-12 MLMHNM303

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Expert comment


(Gaertn.) Hyl.

Botanical References

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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