Prionium serratum

(L.F.) Drège ex E.Mey.
Family: Prioniaceae
Common names : palmiet, palmito, wildepalmiet, wilde palmit (Afr.); iNtsikane (Xhosa)

Palmiet at Harold Porter NBG

Palmiet is a robust shrub that plays an important role in mostly the Western Cape river ecology. This water-loving shrub is renowned for its practical attributes rather that aesthetics. It needs space to grow and can easily take over if not controlled.

This is a robust, evergreen, semi-aquatic shrub that grows up to about 2 m high. The main stem is 50-100 mm in diameter and is usually covered with the dark brown, fibrous remains of old leaves. The leaves are stiff, leathery and pale grey-green, with toothed edges. They are lanceolate and are arranged spirally around the stem. The flowers are a branched inflorescence about 500 mm. They are small and brown and occur from September to February.

Base with old leaves

P. serratum is listed as declining in KwaZulu Natal due to medicinal harvesting, degradation of habitat from overgrazing and frequent fires.

Distribution and Habitat
Palmiet occurs from the Western Cape to the south of KwaZulu-Natal . It is found in marshy areas, streams, rivers and riverbanks, in large dense stands.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name wilde palmit was used before the 1700s by Van Riebeeck , but was first recorded by Thunberg (c. 1772). The name later changed to wilde palmiet then to palmiet. The name Prionium is derived from the Greek prion meaning a saw and refers to the leaf blades. Serratum refers to the toothed edges.

Palmiet plants play an important ecological role in stabilizing the riverbed and riverbanks from erosion.

Uses and cultural aspects
: The young flower shoots are broken off before flowering and eaten or used as a vegetable. The leaves are used for basketry work, hats and mats. Palmiet is an organic engineering material, which can be used for binding riverbanks, splitting or channelling river water as required.

Growing in Harold Porter NBG

Growing Prionium serratum

Palmiet can be rapidly, easily propagated and grown from divisions during the winter months. This is a semi- aquatic plant, requiring a reasonably damp habitat to flourish.

References and further reading
  • Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa . Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria & Missouri Botanical Garden , Missouri .
  • Mustart, P., Cowling, R. & Albertyn, J. 1997. Southern Overberg . South African Wild Flower Guide 8. Botanical Society of South Africa , Cape Town .
  • Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban .
  • Smith , C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35.
  • Victor, J.E. 2009. Prionium serratum. In D. Raimondo, L. von Staden, W. Foden, J.E Victor, N.A Helme, R.C. Turner, D.A. Kamundi & P.A Manyama (eds), Red List South African plants 2009 . Strelizia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.


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Phakamani m'Afrika Xaba
Garden Harold Porter National Botanical Garden
September 2005
(Updated January 2011)


This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website