• Balaka microcarpa

This species of Balaka is usually a small palm, but it can grow up to 13m in height, with an 8 cm diameter trunk.
Also known as:
Local Names: Balaka

Description

This species of Balaka is usually a small palm, but it can grow up to 13m in height, with an 8 cm diameter trunk. The trunk is green with distinct nodes below the crown shaft, but lower down along the trunk it becomes grey-brown, and is usually heavily adorned with epiphytes, moss and lichen of various colours. It has a compact crown with 7-10 ascending fronds that are up to 2 m in length, with large, well spaced dark green leaflets. As with several, if not all the Balaka, the fronds are considerably longer in those palms growing in full shade than those in open areas. The crown shaft is slight and dark green with inflorescences emerging beneath it. The inflorescences are two or three times branched with a long petiole and are often held erect. The fruit are small, oval in shape; about 2 cm long by 1 cm wide, and are bright orange-red when mature. Young palms are conspicuous, with characteristic entire leaves, the transition from the entire leaf to the pinnate form occurs on average after the 28th leaf.

Distribution

The known range of this palm is very small, occurring immediately north of Suva, Vitilevu √Ę‚ā¨‚Äú only in the forests of Coloisuva and Savura Creek.

Habitat Ecology and Behaviour

This species of Balaka grows as an understorey, rarely semi-emergent palm of the wet forests of Coloisuva and Savura Creek at an altitude of 50-300m with an annual rainfall in excess of 4000mm and with no dry season. In the early 1980s, Dr Julian Ash of the University of the South Pacific made a detailed ecological study of this palm over a three year period and found it to be very slow growing with palms maturing at about 5 m in height when they would be about 45 years old. Flowering and fruiting occurs throughout the year. The oldest palm he observed was estimated to be 85 years old. Annual fruit set is very variable with about 180 fruits on each inflorescence each year. Only about 0.1% of these fruit survive to become a mature palm. No observations were made on seed dispersers and so gravity and water are believed to be the main agents.

Threats

Nearly the entire population is located in one of several adjacent reserves √Ę‚ā¨‚Äú the Coloisuva Forest Park (wholly a mahogany plantation), the Savura Forest Reserve (about 75% mahogany plantations), the Vago Forest Reserve (mature forest) and the Tamavua and Savura Watercatchment Reserve (mature forest). However, about half of this distribution is under planted mahogany (Coloisuva and Savura Forest Reserve). Clearly the felling of the mahogany which has commenced will have a major impact on this palm unless it is undertaken with great care everywhere and the major palm locations are left intact.

Conservation Status

The current threat category is Endangered (IUCN Global Status) but in view of the on-going felling of the mahogany, and clearance for agriculture elsewhere, this should be revised to Critically Endangered.

Remarks and Cultural Significance

The current threat category is Endangered (IUCN Global Status) but in view of the on-going felling of the mahogany, and clearance for agriculture elsewhere, this should be revised to Critically Endangered.

References

Ash (1988);
Fuller (1997);
Watling (2005).

Front Page Photo: Dick Watling
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Source: George Bennett
Source: Dick Watling
Source: Dick Watling
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