Raffia palm
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Clade: Commelinids
Order: Arecales
Family: Arecaceae
Subfamily: Calamoideae
Tribe: Lepidocaryeae
Genus: Raphia

Raffia palms (Raphia from Malagasy: rafia derived from fia "to squeeze juice"[2]) are a genus of about twenty species of palms native to tropical regions of Africa, and especially Madagascar, with one species (R. taedigera) also occurring in Central and South America.[1] R. taedigera is the source of raffia fibers, which are the veins of the leaves, and this species produces a fruit called "brazilia pods", "uxi nuts" or "uxi pods".[3]

They grow up to 16 metres (52 ft) tall and are remarkable for their compound pinnate leaves, the longest in the plant kingdom; leaves of R. regalis up to 25 metres (82 ft) long[4] and 3 metres (9.8 ft) wide are known. The plants are monocarpic, meaning that they flower once and then die after the seeds are mature. Some species have individual stems which die after fruiting, but have a root system which remains alive and sends up new stems which fruit.

Cultivation and uses


See also: Kuba textiles

Removing the membrane
Rolling the fibres together before drying
Weaving raffia.

Raffia fiber is produced from the epidermal membrane on the underside of the leaf fronds. The membrane is taken off to create a long thin fiber, which can be rolled together for added strength before they are finally dried. Fibres can be made into twine, rope, garden ties, and used in tree grafting.[2][5] Fibres are important in the area of textiles, as they can be dyed and woven into products such as decorative mats, baskets, placemats, hats, and shoes.

Raffia wine

The sap of the palm can be fermented into raffia wine.[2] It is traditionally collected by cutting a box in the top of the palm and suspending a large gourd below to collect the milky white liquid. Unlike with oil palms, this process kills the tree. Sap from both the raffia and oil palms can be allowed to ferment over a few days. When first collected from the tree, it is sweet and appears slightly carbonated. As it ages more sugar is converted. Raffia wine tends to be sweeter at any age when compared to oil palm wine. Both kinds of palm wine can also be distilled into strong liquors, such as Ogogoro. Traditionally in some cultures where raffia or oil palm are locally available, guests and spirits are offered these drinks from the palm trees.[citation needed]

Other uses

In local construction, raffia fibres are used for ropes, with branches and leaves providing sticks and supporting beams, and various roof coverings.[2] The people of Ogba kingdom in Rivers State and other southern Nigerians use raffia palm fronds as fishing poles. The frond is usually cut from a young palm tree. The leaves are removed and the stake is dried, which becomes very light, and the hook is attached to a line, which is tied to the stake, making it a fishing pole.[citation needed]

The raffia palm is important in societies such as that of the Province of Bohol in the Philippines, Kuba of Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nso of Cameroon, the Igbo and Ibibio/Annang/Bahumono of Southeastern Nigeria, the Tiv of Northcentral Nigeria and Southwestern Cameroons, the Urhobo and Ijaw people of the Niger delta Nigeria and the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria, among several other West African ethnic nations.[citation needed]

Synthetic raffia

Main article: Polypropylene raffia

Synthetic raffia string lon­gi­tu­di­nal­ly unfurled into a ribbon
A strand of raffia has a maximum length of about 1.5 m and an irregular width. When found on spools or hanks of greater lengths, it is likely synthetic raffia, produced from polypropylene. First produced by Covema in collaboration with Sulzer, a manufacturer of flat weaving looms for natural fibers, who adapted their looms to process synthetic raffia. These fabrics are used to make carpet backing, protective sheets, and bags for rice, potatoes, and citrus fruit. Covema also developed a method to cover raffia fabric with a thin film of polyethylene in order to make it waterproof.[6]


Raffia palm fruit
Image Scientific name Distribution
Raphia africana Otedoh Nigeria, Cameroon
Raphia australis Oberm. & Strey Mozambique, South Africa
Raphia farinifera (Gaertn.) Hyl. Africa from Senegal to Tanzania, south to Mozambique and Zimbabwe
Raphia gentiliana De Wild. Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic
Raphia hookeri G.Mann & H.Wendl. western and central Africa from Liberia to Angola
Raphia laurentii De Wild. Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic
Raphia longiflora G.Mann & H.Wendl. from Nigeria to Democratic Republic of Congo
Raphia mambillensis Otedoh Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Sudan
Raphia mannii Becc. Nigeria, Bioko
Raphia matombe De Wild. Cabinda, Democratic Republic of Congo
Raphia monbuttorum Drude Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, South Sudan
Raphia palma-pinus (Gaertn.) Hutch. western Africa from Liberia to Cabinda
Raphia regalis Becc. central Africa from Nigeria to Angola
Raphia rostrata Burret Cabinda, Democratic Republic of Congo
Raphia ruwenzorica Otedoh eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi
Raphia sese De Wild. Democratic Republic of Congo
Raphia sudanica A. Chev. western Africa from Senegal to Cameroon
Raphia taedigera (Mart.) Mart. Nigeria, Cameroon, Central America (Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama), South America (Colombia, Pará State of Brazil)
Raphia textilis Welw. Cabinda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Angola
Raphia vinifera P. Beauv. western Africa from Democratic Republic of Congo to Benin


  1. ^ a b Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  2. ^ a b c d Boiteau, Pierre (1999). "rafia". Dictionnaire des noms malgaches de végétaux (in French). Vol. I. Editions Alzieu. p. 196.
  3. ^ Tucker, A.; Redford, A.; Scher, J.; Trice, M. (2010). "Raphia taedigera". Dried Botanical ID. Fort Collins, CO: Delaware State University, Identification Technology Program, CPHST, PPQ, APHIS, USDA. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  4. ^ Hallé, F. 1977. The longest leaf in palms? Principes 21: 18.
  5. ^ "Natural Raffia – Your New Go-to Material in Fair Fashion - One of a Mind by ABURY". abury.net. Retrieved 2021-09-10.
  6. ^ Baucia, Giovanni. "C'era una volta...l'estrusione". Polimerica.it (in Italian). Cronoart Srl. Retrieved 21 October 2021.