The cabbage or fan palm

The cabbage or fan palm

Livistona australis
Livistona australis. Photograph by Heather Knowles.

With glossy green, fan shaped leaves spanning 3-4m in length and a trunk reaching a height of up to 30m, the cabbage or fan palm (Livistona australis) is a stunning feature tree suitable for the majority of gardens or as a potted specimen. Its common name derives from both the leaf shape and, in autumn and winter, the striking spikes of cream flowers which resemble cabbages. This tree is naturally found in a narrow coastal strip from Fraser Island in Queensland through NSW to far eastern Victoria where it thrives in rainforest margins and wet eucalypt forests. It grows best in well-drained, organically rich soils with filtered sunlight in frost-free areas, but tolerates poor air quality and a wide variety of soil types, some of which slow their growth rate and final height. This palm accumulates dead leaves which form a ‘skirt’ beneath the growing top of the palm. In a formal garden setting these may be removed by an arborist but are left in roadside plantings as the leaves do not drop and thus do not require constant cleaning up.

Traditionally, the cabbage palm has served many purposes. The Eora people of the Sydney Basin ate the young fronds, either cooked or raw and the heart of the trunk was cooked to treat sore throats. The fronds were used as roofing, the leaf segments for weaving into bags and baskets and fibres for making string, rope, fishing nets and fishing lines. No doubt similar uses were utilised throughout the palm’s natural range. The early colonists also ate the young leaves as a cabbage substitute. Their greatest use of the plant, however, was in plaiting split leaf segments and constructing these into the distinctive cabbage tree hats that were popular up until the 1930’s.

Back to Paten’s Manuscripts