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Heterospathe barfodii

Heterospathe barfodii is a critically endangered palm from Papua New Guinea with a striking white crownshaft and maroon young flowering stems.
Heterospathe barfodii in Hawaii

Heterospathe barfodii growing at Floribunda Palms and Exotics, Hawaii (Photo: John Dransfield)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Heterospathe barfodii L.M.Gardiner & W.J.Baker

Conservation status: 

Critically Endangered (CR) according to IUCN Red List criteria.


Lowland tropical rainforest.

Key Uses: 

None known.

Known hazards: 

None known.


Genus: Heterospathe

About this species

Heterospathe barfodii is a slender palm with a striking white crownshaft. It was recently described as a new species by Kew scientists Lauren Gardiner and William Baker, having been previously known in cultivation under an incorrect name (Heterospathe glauca).

Known from a single specimen collected in the wild by Anders Barfod, H. barfodii was named in his honour, in recognition of his contribution to New Guinea palm research.


Discover more

Heterospathe barfodii inflorescence
Roy Banka with inflorescence of Heterospathe barfodii (Photo: John Dowe)

Geography and distribution

Heterospathe barfodii is only known from one specimen growing in the lowlands of mainland Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea.

It was found growing in an open grassy area at the side of a dirt road, in lowland tropical rainforest at about sea level.


Overview: Solitary palm with erect stem up to 8 m tall and 10 cm in diameter.

Leaves: 7–9 in crown. Sheaths up to 67 cm long, pale green with dense white covering, forming a well-defined silvery-white crownshaft.

Petiole (leaf stalk) up to 40 cm long, bright green, with dense white covering near sheath.

Central axis of leaf blade up to 240 cm long with about 40–55 leaflets along each side. Leaflets bright green, leathery, up to 78 cm long, held horizontally with tips drooping slightly.

Inflorescence: Up to 99 cm long, branched to three orders, deep maroon when flowers start to open.

Male flowers: Deep maroon on opening, about 8 mm in diameter, with three, thick, triangular sepals and three triangular petals. Stamens (male parts) white, up to 5 mm long, fused at base to form a ring around pistillode (sterile female organ).

Female flowers: Immature bud about 5 mm long, deep maroon, sepals and petals overlapping.

Fruits: Spherical, red at maturity, 1 cm in diameter.

Seeds: Spherical, pale brown, 7 mm in diameter.

Heterospathe barfodii unripe fruits
Heterospathe barfodii growing at Floribunda Palms and Exotics, Hawaii, showing crownshaft, inflorescence and unripe fruits. (Photo: Jeff Marcus)

Threats and conservation

Heterospathe barfodii is only known from a single specimen at a single location and has been assessed as Critically Endangered (CR) according to IUCN Red List criteria.

It was found at a disturbed forest edge in an area under threat from logging, mining and oil palm plantations.

This species at Kew

Dried specimens of Heterospathe barfodii are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to visitors from around the world, by appointment.

Heterospathe barfodii fruits
Fruits of Heterospathe barfodii (Photo: John Dowe)

References and credits

Gardiner, L. M., Dransfield, J., Marcus, J. & Baker, W. J. (2012). Heterospathe barfodii, a new species from Papua New Guinea. Palms 56: 91–100.

Kew science editor: Lauren Gardiner
Kew contributors: William Baker and John Dransfield
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell
Kew would like to thank the following contributors: Jeff Marcus (Floribunda Palms, USA), John Dowe (Senior Research Fellow, Australian Tropical Herbarium, Cairns, Australia)

Although every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions. 

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