Prionium serratum (L.F.) Drège ex E.Mey.
Common names: palmiet (Eng.); palmiet, palmito, wildepalmiet, wilde palmit (Afr.); iNtsikane (Xhosa)
Palmiet is a robust shrub that plays an important role in mostly the Western Cape river ecology. This water-loving shrub is renowned for its practical attributes rather that aesthetics. It needs space to grow and can easily take over if not controlled.
This is a robust, evergreen semi-aquatic shrub that grows up to about 2 m high. The main stem is 50-100 mm in diameter and is usually covered with the dark brown, fibrous remains of old leaves. The leaves are stiff, leathery and pale grey-green, with toothed edges. They are lanceolate and are arranged spirally around the stem. The flowers are a branched inflorescence about 500 mm. They are small and brown and occur from September to February.
Least Concern (LC), although Prionium serratum is declining in KwaZulu-Natal due to medicinal harvesting, degradation of habitat from overgrazing and frequent fires, the decline is insufficient across its entire range to justify a listing of Near Threatened (NT).
Distribution and habitat
Palmiet occurs from the Western Cape to the south of KwaZulu-Natal. It is found in marshy areas, streams, rivers and riverbanks, in large dense stands.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name wilde palmiet was used before the 1700s by Van Riebeeck, but was first recorded by Thunberg (c. 1772). The name was later changed to wilde palmiet then to palmiet. The name Prionium is derived from the Greek prion meaning a saw and refers to the leaf blades. Serratum refers to the toothed edges.
Palmiet plants play an important ecological role in stabilizing the river bed and river banks from erosion.
The young flower shoots are broken off before flowering and eaten or used as a vegetable. The leaves are used for basketry work, hats and mats. Palmiet is an organic engineering material which can be used for binding river banks, splitting or channelling river water as required.
Growing Prionium serratum
Palmiet can be easily propagated and grown rapidly from divisions during the winter months. This is a semi-aquatic plant, requiring a reasonably damp habitat to flourish.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa . Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria & Missouri Botanical Garden , Missouri .
- Mustart, P., Cowling, R. & Albertyn, J. 1997. Southern Overberg . South African Wild Flower Guide 8. Botanical Society of South Africa , Cape Town .
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban .
- Smith , C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35.
- Victor, J.E. 2009. Prionium serratum. In D. Raimondo, L. von Staden, W. Foden, J.E Victor, N.A Helme, R.C. Turner, D.A. Kamundi & P.A Manyama (eds), Red List South African plants 2009 . Strelizia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
Phakamani m'Afrika Xaba
Harold Porter National Botanical Garden
(Updated January 2011)
Plant Type: Aquatic, Shrub
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer
Flower colour: Brown
Aspect: Full Sun, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Average