When you are walking up to the Bamboo Garden along the tractor pathway, pay attention to your left and you will see one of the most beautiful plants in Tropical Spice Garden: the Silver Joey palm, Johannesteijmannia magnifica, or locally known as ‘pokok payung’, or ‘daun serdang’.
The Silver Joey palm has some of the largest and most fascinating leaves of any palm tree on the planet. Along with its sibling species, the Slender Joey palm (J. lanceolata) , these palms have been reported to be threatened and endangered in the IUCN Red List, 1997, due to poaching and seed collection. Besides uncontrolled deforestation and conversion of forest areas to oil palm plantations and rubber estates, the building of dams and illegal logging activities are also driving the cause of decline in these majestic palms in the wild.
There are 4 species of Johannesteijsmannia species:Silver Joey (J. magnifica), Diamond Joey (J. altifrons), Joey on the stick (J. perakensis), and Slender Joey (J. lanceolata).
The distribution of the Joey palms is limited to small ranges in Malaysia. Today, we are going to look more in-depth towards the Silver Joey palm and its unique characteristics.
The Silver Joey is distributed in Perak, Selangor, and Negeri Sembilan, where it occurs only in the hilly and virgin rainforest. This species is endemic to Peninsular Malaysia and it appears to be stem-less with the leaves growing out from the ground in a cluster. However, the stem or trunk is actually formed below ground, out of sight. The plant can attain a height of up to three metres with its big diamond shaped leaves stretching out to two metres with silvery grey undersides. This stunning effect from the leaves’ undersides however, is more noticeable at night when you shine a light directly at it. A lovely sight to behold during our Night Walks!
The indigenous communities used the leaves of the palm as an ‘atap’ or roof thatch for small shelters and houses. However, when zinc roofs begin to replace the rooftops of the villages, they rarely use the leaves nowadays. Furthermore, medicinal values of Silver Palm was recorded in Johor, where the petioles are burnt and the ashes, with some water added, are applied topically to the body, especially to ease respiratory problems and small wounds. The seeds are boiled with water and the concoction is taken orally to reduce fever among children. The seeds can also be grated into powder and applied to the face, chest or tongue for relieving sore throat, cough and asthma.
There is an increasing demand for these palms as an ornamental due to their exotic appearance, thus illegal harvesting and uncontrolled seed harvesting had been the main threat to their survival. Moreover, the growth development of Silver Joey is a very slow process – taking up to decades – and irresponsible humans would poach younger specimens before the young plants have the chance to stabilise and thrive in their natural habitat. The inflorescences attract stingless bees (Trigona spp) and they are believed to be one of the main pollinators. Of course, when you visit our garden during the Night Walks, you might observe the inflorescences attracting a wide range of insects and bugs too!
The Silver Joey Palm is indeed a unique palm species that deserves our attention and appreciation. There were surveys carried out in orang asli communities in Peninsular Malaysia and it seems that the orang asli have been collecting the seeds or live specimens for sale. That, and with the increasing rate of deforestation in West Malaysia, the cultivation of Silver Joey palms in nurseries becomes a sliver of hope in preserving the species for future generations. Most importantly, the protection of the Johannesteijsmannia lies in educating indigenous and local communities, and exotic plant collectors in order to save this species from extinction in the wild.
Next time, we’ll elaborate more on the remaining 3 species of Johannesteijsmannia! Come over to Tropical Spice to witness the beauty of Silver Joey Palm!