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Palms of New Guinea

A regional monograph of the most poorly known palm diversity hotspot in the world.
Dransfieldia micrantha:  a new monotypic palm genus described recently by a collaboration led from Kew. The species was discovered in 1872, but was not recorded again in the wild for almost 130 years when collaborators from Kew and Universit

More than 1000 species of palm occur in Malesia, making it the most important tropical region for palm diversity. Within this region, there are three palm hotspots – the Sunda Shelf, the Philippines and New Guinea. Of these three, New Guinea is the second largest, but by far the most poorly known, despite being the largest tropical island in the World. With an estimated 251 species in 34 genera, the New Guinea palm flora is rich on a global scale. However, the piecemeal description of species over more than a century and a lack of a critical synthesis has left the taxonomy of the region’s palms in disarray. This is particularly concerning in the light of the importance of palms to local communities and the threats to these resources.

The Palms of New Guinea project is an integrated research and capacity building programme led by RBG Kew. The ultimate goal is to produce a regional monograph following the precedent set by Dransfield and Beentje’s highly regarded Palms of Madagascar (1995). However, due to considerable interest in palms within New Guinea and elsewhere, we have built a broad collaborative consortium of authors, including several from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Through the project, counterparts from New Guinea have made use of training opportunities through research visits to Kew and both collaborative and independent fieldwork. The project is closely linked to other capacity building initiatives (such as the UK Darwin Initiative Papuan Plant Diversity project). While the manuscript for the full monograph will not be complete until 2014, the project has yielded numerous other outputs including fifteen study visits to Kew by Indonesian/Papua New Guinean counterparts, more than 1000 new specimens deposited in Kew and duplicated elsewhere, 25 scientific papers and a field guide to New Guinea palm genera that was published in English and Indonesian in 2006.

Key papers published since 2006.
1. Baker*, W.J. & Dransfield*, J. (2006). Field Guide to the Palms of New Guinea. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 108 pp. (Line drawings by Patricia K.R. Davies, Soetjami Dransfield and Lucy T. Smith)
2. Baker*, W.J. & Dransfield*, J. (2006). Sebuah Panduan Lapangan untk Palem New Guinea. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Indonesian edn. 108 pp.
3. Baker*, W.J., Zona, S., Heatubun, C.D., Lewis, C.E., Maturbongs, R.A. & Norup, M.V. (2006). Dransfieldia (Arecaceae): a new palm genus from western New Guinea. Systematic Botany 31: 61-69.
4. Loo*, A.H.B., Dransfield*, J., Chase*, M.W. & Baker*, W.J. (2006). Low-copy nuclear DNA, phylogeny and the evolution of dichogamy in the betel nut palms and their relatives (Arecinae; Arecaceae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 39 (3): 598-618.
5. Baker*, W.J. & Dransfield*, J. (2007). Arecaceae of Papua. In Marshall, A.J. & Beehler, B.M. (eds) The Ecology of Papua. Singapore: Periplus Editions. 359-370.
6. Trudgen*, M.S. & Baker*, W.J. (2008). A revision of the Heterospathe elegans (Arecaceae) complex in New Guinea. Kew Bulletin 63: 639-647.
7. Heatubun, C.D., Baker*, W.J., Mogea, J.P., Harley*, M.M., Tijitrosoedirdjo, S.S. & Dransfield*, J. (2009). A Monograph of Cyrtostachys (Arecaceae). Kew Bulletin 64: 67-94.
8. Heatubun, C.D., Dransfield, J., Flynn, T., Tjitrosoedirdjo, S.S., Mogea, J.P. & Baker, W.J. In Press. A Monograph of the Betel Nut Palms (Areca: Arecaceae) of East Malesia. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society

Project partners and collaborators


Dowe, John (James Cook University)


Barfod, Anders (University of Aarhus)


Heatubun, Charlie (Universitas Negeri Papua)

Maturbongs, Rudi (Universitas Negeri Papua)

Papua New Guinea

Banka, Roy (WWF)


Zona, Scott (Florida International University)

Project funders

AustraliaPacific Biological Foundation

British American Tobacco Biodiversity Partnership