Raphia vinifera (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Raphia vinifera P.Beauv.

Protologue: Fl. Oware 1: 77 (1806).
Family: Arecaceae (Palmae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 28


  • Raphia diasticha Burret (1942).

Vernacular names

  • Bamboo palm, king bamboo palm, raphia palm (En).
  • Palmier bambou, palmier raphia, raphia (Fr).

Origin and geographic distribution

Raphia vinifera is distributed from Benin eastwards to DR Congo. Records of its occurrence more to the west are due to misidentification. Raphia vinifera is grown in Nigeria and Cameroon.


The epidermis of young leaflets yields raffia fibre which is locally used for making baskets, mats, hats, bags, ropes, hammocks and ceremonial costumes. It may be woven into cloth. The Kuba people in DR Congo are well known for weaving beautiful raffia cloth used, for instance, as ceremonial dance skirts and embroidered cloth panels for court rituals. In Europe raffia fibre (mainly from Raphia farinifera (Gaertn.) Hyl.) is used as tying material for horticulture and handicrafts. The leaves are highly valued for thatching. The petiole and rachis of the leaves of Raphia vinifera are often used as poles and rafters and for making furniture items such as stools, bedsteads and benches. Split midribs are woven into floor-mats. In Benin and Nigeria the stems are commonly used for house frames.

The tree is sometimes used for tapping sap to be fermented palm wine, but not very often, because the taste of the wine is not appreciated. The oily mesocarp is eaten and can be fermented into a strong drink. The raw fruit is used as a bait for birds and as a fish poison. A decoction of the apical bud is taken for the treatment of gonorrhoea and other genito-urinary infections.

Production and international trade

Most of the raffia of international commerce is produced in Madagascar from Raphia farinifera.


Raffia fibre is well suited to horticultural purposes, because it is supple and durable and it does not have sharp edges which might damage tender plant parts. It is easily dyed, making it suitable for the production of fancy articles. The quality of raffia fibre from Raphia vinifera is less than that of Raphia hookeri G.Mann & H.Wendl., because in the latter the hypodermic layer of the leaflets consists of thick fibres arranged in a continuous ribbon-like layer, whereas in Raphia vinifera the fibres are not arranged in a ribbon-like layer, but discontinuously, which accounts for the lesser tenacity of their raffia fibre. Thatch from the leaves is said to be durable.

The mesocarp of fruits collected in Nigeria contained 3.6% moisture, 4.4% crude protein, 29.1% fat, 53.4% carbohydrates, 5.6% crude fibre and 4.1% ash. The oil yield of the mesocarp was 28.5%, while the seed yielded only 0.9%. The major fatty acids in the mesocarp oil and the seed lipids of Raphia vinifera are palmitic acid, oleic acid and linoleic acid. The mesocarp oil resembles that of oil palm in colour, taste, odour and chemical composition, except that it contains more linoleic acid, giving it a higher unsaturated acid content.

Ethanolic and aqueous extracts of the fruit have shown toxicity to fish in experiments with the African catfish (Clarias gariepinus).


Monoecious tree with a stout trunk up to 5 m tall. Leaves pinnately compound, arching, up to 13 m long, sheathing at the base; sheath unarmed, splitting opposite the petiole; petiole channeled above, unarmed; rachis stout, unarmed, pale brown to orange; leaflets linear, up to 150 cm long, single-fold, bright green and shiny above, fairly glaucous and waxy below, margins and main veins spiny. Inflorescence axillary, pendulous, up to 150 cm long, branched to 2 orders; bracts of peduncle and branch-bases ring-like; partial inflorescences 30–60 cm long; rachillae in 4 ranks, lax, slender, 10–15 cm long, curved, laterally compressed, tapering, with flowers in 2 rows. Flowers unisexual; male flowers at apex of inflorescence branchlets, female flowers at base; male flowers curved, 8 mm long, bracteole sharply 2-keeled and enclosing the calyx, calyx almost cup-shaped, 3-lobed, corolla c. 3 times as long as calyx, splitting into 3 segments, slightly thickened at the apex, stamens (6–)9, inserted on the corolla, filaments thick, free or connate for half their length; female flowers with outer bracteole slightly longer than calyx, calyx cup-shaped, 3-toothed, corolla one third longer than calyx, divided halfway into 3 pointed segments, staminiodal ring fused to corolla, with 9 sterile anthers, ovary superior, 3-celled. Fruit cylindrical-ellipsoid, 5–9 cm × 3–4 cm, with a sharp beak 3–5 mm long, covered with scales in (8–)9 rows, usually 1-seeded; scales rhomboid, c. 20 mm × 20 mm, flat or concave towards the point, yellow-brown. Seed ovoid to ellipsoid; mesocarp oily; endosperm deeply ruminate.

Raphia comprises c. 20 species, mostly African, predominantly found in swampy areas. One species (Raphia taedigera (Mart.) Mart.) is found in tropical America. Raphia taedigera is very similar to Raphia vinifera and the hypothesis has been put forward that it was derived from plant material of the latter that arrived from Africa by ocean currents. Raphia australis Oberm. & Strey (‘kosi palm’), a single-stemmed palm up to 24 m tall, occurring only in southern Mozambique and north-eastern South Africa, was long considered conspecific with Raphia vinifera. It has erect inflorescences, however, whereas those of Raphia vinifera are pendulous. The large leaves are sometimes used for thatching. The buoyant petioles are used for rafts and as outriggers for canoes. They are also used for house construction and fences.

Raphia species have monocarpic stems, i.e. they flower and fruit only once, followed by death. Inflorescences are produced more or less simultaneously in the axils of the most distal leaves. Tapping for wine may damage the developing inflorescence, making flowering impossible and accelerating death. The time from planting to flowering in Raphia vinifera is about 8 years.


Raphia vinifera is found in swamps and other moist locations, especially on the edges of creeks.


Raphia palms are generally propagated by seed. In nurseries, a spacing of 30 cm × 30 cm is recommended. Seedlings may be collected from the wild and raised in a nursery before being planted out in the field. Raphia vinifera is also propagated by suckers. Propagation by tissue culture techniques may offer potential for Raphia.

Fruit rot, caused by Thielaviopsis paradoxa (synonym: Chalara paradoxa) affects Raphia vinifera in Nigeria, causing dark brown rot of the mesocarp. It is a weak pathogen entering fruit via wounds, sometimes killing the embryo, and leading to loss of planting material. The aphid Cerataphis palmae may cause considerable damage to Raphia vinifera, e.g. in Nigeria.

Genetic resources

No germplasm collections or breeding programmes of Raphia vinifera are known.


Like various other Raphia species, Raphia vinifera is a very useful local source of a range of products, including raffia fibre, construction material, palm heart, oil and traditional medicines. Oil from the mesocarp has been proposed as a biodiesel, but this this does not seem a viable option because Raphia vinifera only flowers and fruits once before dying.

Major references

  • Burkill, H.M., 1997. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 4, Families M–R. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
  • de Souza, S., 1982. Remarques anatomiques sur trois espèces de Raphia du Bénin: Raphia hookeri Mann & Wendl., R. vinifera P. Beauv. et R. sudanica A. Chev. Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Afrique Noire, Série A 44(3–4): 280–294.
  • Russell, T.A., 1965. The Raphia palms of West Africa. Kew Bulletin 19(2): 173–196.
  • Russell, T.A., 1968. Palmae. In: Hepper, F.N. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 3, part 1. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 159–169.
  • Rustiami, H. & Brink, M., 2003. Raphia P. Beauv. In: Brink, M. & Escobin, R.P. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 17. Fibre plants. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 211–217.

Other references

  • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (Editors), 2006. Flore analytique du Bénin. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. 1034 pp.
  • Enobakhare, D.A., 1994. Occurrence and distribution of Cerataphis palmae (Ghesquierei) (Homoptera: Pemphigidae) on Raphia palms in southern Nigeria. Insect Science and its Application 15(1): 101–104.
  • Fafioye, O.O., Adebisi, A.A. & Fagade, S.O, 2004. Toxicity of Parkia biglobosa and Raphia vinifera extracts on Clarias gariepinus juveniles. African Journal of Biotechnology 3(11): 627–630.
  • Glen, H.F., 2004. Raphia australis Oberm. & Strey. [Internet] South African National Biodiversity Institute, Kirstenbosch, South Africa. http://www.plantzafrica.com/ plantqrs/ raphiaaust.htm. January 2011.
  • Igwenyi, I.O., Njoku, O.U., Ikwuagwu, O.E. & Nwuke, C.P., 2008. Extraction, characterization and potentials of raphia mesocarp oil for the production of biodiesel. Journal of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Ecology1(1): 53–61.
  • Oruade-Dimaro, E.A., 1987. The occurrence of brown fruit rot of Raphia species in Nigeria. Nigerian Journal of Palms and Oil Seeds 8(1): 41–49.
  • Otedoh, M.O., 1974. Raphia oil: its extraction, properties and utilization. Journal of the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research 5(19): 45–49.
  • Urquhart, R., 1997. Paleoecological evidence of Raphia in the Pre-Columbian Neotropics. Journal of Tropical Ecology13: 783–792.
  • van Wyk, B.E. & Gericke, N., 2000. People’s plants: a guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 351 pp.
  • van Wyk, B. & van Wyk, P., 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 536 pp.


  • R.B. Jiofack Tafokou, Ecologic Museum of Cameroon, P.O. Box 8038, Yaoundé, Cameroon

Correct citation of this article

Jiofack Tafokou, R.B., 2011. Raphia vinifera P.Beauv. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp>.

Accessed 12 November 2020.