Travelers Palm: Identification, Uses, Growing guide

Travelers Palm_ Identification, Uses, Growing Guide
The travelers palm is a palm-esque evergreen but not a true palm. It sports an impressive height and vast, paddle-shaped banana-like leaves. Although some parts of the travelers palm are poisonous to humans and animals, other parts of this tropical plant are edible.

You may not be surprised that the travelers palm is closer to the banana tree family (Musaceae) than the palm tree family (Arecaceae).

You only need to look at the leaves; their shape and fast-growing pace are reminiscent of the banana tree family.

Travelers Palm Plant Profile

Ravenala madagascariensis is the scientific name for this tropical plant. But, it also goes by its more common names, travelers palm tree and the traveler’s palm.

As a species of the Ravenala genus, the travelers palm is one of the monocotyledonous flowering plants. Initially, it was thought that the Ravenala genus was a single species, but four forms and five species have since been established.

The Ravenala genus is a member of the Strelitziaceae family, otherwise known as the Bird of Paradise family of plants. It is much closer to the banana plant in nature than the palm tree.

The travelers palm is native to Madagascar. So, it’s no wonder the travelers tree is frost tender.

This palm-like, evergreen tree is most at home in your home. The travelers palm looks fantastic as a houseplant, conservatory, atrium, or patio plant.

After pollination of its white flowers, brilliant blue seeds are produced. This flowering plant is unique, as it’s the only true blue seed in nature.

Why is it Called Travelers palm?

It gets its name from the amount of water it accumulates in its leaf bases. Lost and desperate travelers would previously use this water for emergency drinking water.

How Do You Identify the Travelers Palm?

Reaching 30-50 feet, this palm-like evergreen tree is hard to miss.

It sports an unbranched trunk adorned with a single plane of a fan-shaped crown of dark green. Leaves are strikingly long-stalked, about 9-19 feet long, with expanded, cup-shaped leaf bases.

In summer, white-petaled flowers bloom from the groups of boat-shaped spathes emerging from the leaf axis.

Travelers palm leaves
Travelers palm leaves
Travelers palm seeds
Travelers palm seeds

Where do Travelers Palms grow?

Although native to Madagascar, the travelers palm is cultivated worldwide as a tropical plant. But, it can only thrive in USDA plant hardiness zones 10 to 11, like that of Florida.

Ravenala madagascariensis can potentially survive in zone 9, but only with plenty of protection from occasional frost.

Travelers Palm vs. Bird of Paradise

Both are from the same Strelitziaceae family and have some interesting similarities. However, these tropical plants are essentially different.

Once you know what the Ravenala madagascariensis (travelers palm) and Strelitzia reginae (bird of paradise) look like, you’ll easily tell them apart.

Their differences include;

  • Height: although they boast waxy, broad leaves in a stunning fan-like structure, both plants are very different in height. The travelers palm growth rate is intense, growing to a serious 30-50 feet when mature. In contrast, the bird of paradise plants are shrubs that only reach a maximum height of a small tree (about 8 feet tall). But only if left untrimmed.
  • Leaves: travelers palm boasts vast, broad leaves which grow in an east-west direction. They sprout from a long petiole extending from the plant’s center. In contrast, the bird of paradise has smaller and thinner leaves that usually appear on a stem poking from the ground.
  • Flowering: it’s super easy to identify the bird of paradise plant when in bloom. Flashy-colored yellow, orange, red, or blue flowers bloom when groomed. The look of the petals and arrangement is reminiscent of a bird in flight, hence its common name.
  • Growth: as you may expect, the travelers palm grows much faster than the bird of paradise plant.

Both plants are undoubtedly different but equally attractive.

Bird of paradise
Bird of paradise

Is Travelers Palm Toxic?

The travelers palm tree is known to be slightly toxic to both humans and animals.

If your cat or dog mistakenly eats a leaf from this banana plant, they’re in hot water. If they do, take them to an emergency vet urgently.

Are any Parts Edible?

Although some parts of the travelers palm are poisonous to humans and animals, other parts of this tropical plant are edible.

Once flowering begins, bright blue seeds will also show themselves. These seeds are edible with a mealy consistency.

Although they have a bitter taste, the young leaves of the palm tree are edible once cooked. Lastly, the starchy young fruit is similarly edible.

Travelers Palm Tree Uses

The travelers palm has a surprising number of practical uses.

These include:

  • Oil extracted from the seeds and their arils are suitable for cooking. The consistency is somewhere between palm oil and coconut butter.
  • Although this tropical plant can offer water to wayfarers as it captures at the base of its fan-like leaves, a better form of liquid is in the sap. You’ll find this sap in the base of the leaf stalks. Like maple syrup, you can also boil the sap down to a syrup.
  • This plant attracts and feeds pollinators, so anyone with a bee allergy should avoid the travelers palm.

Tips for Growing and Caring for a Travelers Palm Tree

You’ll need patience with the travelers palm, as it’s slow to develop and won’t flower until it’s about ten years of age.

But there are a few tips that can help your Ravenala madagascariensis thrive.

  • Once flowering begins, you can expect it to bloom mainly in summer. However, it may produce flowers all year.
  • Although it doesn’t need full sun until it’s larger, the travelers plant needs a sunny spot.
  • Using fertilizer is a great idea, as it responds well, especially when the growing season finds it high in nitrogen. In addition, using a feed will allow the travelers palm to grow better, demonstrating better foliage.
  • Expect the banana plant to grow to an average height of 7m (23ft).
  • Although you want to avoid any climates out of the USDA 10 and 11 zones, this Ravenala species only requires minimal water under the right conditions.


Getting into the great, wet outdoors in search of edible plants, herbs, fruits and fungi is one of Sarah’s favorite outdoor pursuits. She thinks there’s nothing better than combining her passion for hiking with the start of the foraging season. Sarah’s definitely not afraid of a little rain and dirt, it’s all part of the fun.

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