Insights into the common fishtail palm

12 March 2020 | Research - In Focus

An NUS study showed that the common fishtail palm (left) provides abundant food and shelter for insects and animals in Singapore. One of them is the Asiatic honey bee Apis cerana, which is pictured foraging for pollen on the flowers of the palm (right).

The common fishtail palm (Caryota mitis) lines the verdant landscape of Singapore forests, breaking the monotony of the tableau with the unique 'fishtails' of its leaves. Yet, despite being the only native member of the genus in Singapore and the abundance of its distribution, little is known about its ecology. 

In a bid to deepen understanding about common fishtail palm, a team from NUS Biological Sciences investigated the plant’s interactions with its environment. 

The researchers conducted field surveys and examined records from camera trappings. They found that in the highly fragmented landscape of Singapore, the palm appears to have a penchant for growing along forest edges. The study also showed that the palm was invaluable in providing copious amounts food and shelter for a number of animal taxa in Singapore. Eighteen species of insects, such as ants and bees, as well as five mammals and birds were found to depend on the palm for either food or shelter. 

These findings were first reported in Botany Letters on 29 January 2020. 

Given its ability to thrive in disturbed habitats and along forest edges, the common fishtail palm demonstrates great ecological importance for reforestation and rehabilitation efforts in Singapore.