The Ravinala

Ravinala madagascariensis, also known as « traveler’s tree » or « ravenale », is a tropical plant endemic to Madagascar, belonging to the family Strelitziaceae. It is the only species of the genus Ravenala, which makes it a mono-specific genus. It was discovered by the botanist Philibert Commersson during his stay in Madagascar between 1779 and 1780.

Characteristic of the Ravinala tree :

Although called a « tree », Ravinala is in reality a herbaceous plant with a lacunar stipe, which can sometimes resemble a palm tree. It is easily identified by its unique umbrella shape and impressive size, which can reach 20 meters in height with a 10 meter high stipe.

The large leaves of the Ravinala are arranged in a fan-like pattern in a single plane, with a cup-shaped base that holds rainwater. This creates a habitat for many animal species, including mosquitoes, amphibians and beetles, which depend on this environment for their survival. The petiole is longer than the leaf blade.
Ravinala produces large white flowers with 3 sepals, 3 petals and 6 stamens in spathes of 15 to 20 cm. The flowering begins in September in Madagascar, and the pollination is ensured by bats and lemurs.

The fruits of Ravinala are woody banana-like capsules containing numerous seeds surrounded by bright blue fibers that attract birds. Finally, the sap of Ravinala is abundant and drinkable, easy to extract with a machete, which earned the plant its vernacular name of « traveler’s tree ».

Cultural value of Ravinala :

This tree is also called « traveler’s palm » because, in the past, travelers crossing Madagascar used the leaves of this tree to make makeshift roofs to protect themselves from the sun and rain. Even today, the leaves of the traveler’s palm are often used to make thatched roofs for houses and buildings in rural areas of Madagascar.

In addition to its practical use, Ravinala also has an important cultural significance for the Malagasy people. According to Malagasy tradition, the shape of the tree’s crown symbolizes the union of the four elements: earth, water, air and fire. The leaves are also considered sacred, and are used in religious ceremonies and healing rituals.

Unfortunately, ravinala is threatened by deforestation, habitat loss, and illegal trade in its leaves. However, efforts are underway to protect this iconic plant of Madagascar, including educating people about its cultural importance and encouraging tree planting in deforested areas.

© This photo of Ravenala is the property of Masoala Forest Lodge

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