Kosi Bay Giant Raffia Palms
An Article about the Kosi Bay Giant Raffia Palm. The only naturally occurring forest in South Africa.
The Giant Raffia Palm (Raphia Australis) Kosi Palm
Kosi Bay is well known for its indigenous Raffia Forests, this is rare in Southern Africa and certainly unique.
The Raphia Australis palm once thought to be the same as other species occurring further north in Africa was actually noted as a new specie. Until the flowering plant was seen it was considered to be the same as the West African species.
Since these plants only flower twice in their life span once at 20 years and again at 40 years it took a long time to even make the discovery. This specie only occurs between Kosi Bay and approximately 40 km north of Maputo. The plants can grow up to 16m in height and have the some of the longest compound pinnate leaf structures in the world. The longest measured at 25m from a West African Specie. Certainly in Kosi we regularly see fronds in excess of 6 to 8m long used for building purposes there are of course longer ones if you take the time to look and measure. The fruits of the palm are found in the highest reaches of the tree that is covered with razor sharp leaves and spines and are difficult to reach. These fruit are only blown down once they have dried out. Thus we don’t actually know how these trees are propagated and assume that the only natural propagation is carried out by the rare Palm Nut Vulture that feeds on the fruit and nests in the palms.
The fronds of the palm are used to make Raffia canoes that the local people use whilst fishing and to travel by water on the lakes. Since the internal structure of the fronds is sponge like they float with ease. They are also used as building material in traditional housing for walls and internal structures. Normally a mottled grey color with deep timber tones showing through. The waxy grey outer covering can be removed to expose the wonderful dark wood tones underneath for decorative purposes. The fronds over their length are surprisingly light but strong and easy to handle and work with.
The Kosi palm forest is located on the banks of the 4th lake called Amanzimyama. The palms are found in a swampy area with plenty of standing water. In fact they are happiest growing in this standing water. Hikes can be undertaken to visit this forest and the area is of great interest to people visiting who have an interest in nature.
Other palms are found around the Southern Africa have been propagated by man rather than but natural means. This makes the Kosi Raffia Forest even more unique not only because of its size but that it is naturally occurring.