Sam's focal taxon

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Fan Palms


'Fan Palms' are beautiful and unusual plants. The definition of a 'fan palm' for this assignment's sake was the overall structure of the leaf, stem and where they join. Fan Palms have one leaf per stem. The leaf has a roughly circular shape. This leaf is divided into segments by the creases on either side of the leaf veins that radiate from where the stem joins the leaf to the edge of the leaf.
stem-leaf joining
The leaf segments that point towards the trunk are shorter whereas the leaf segments pointing outwards are longer. A particularly interesting aspect is that the position of the leaf segment determines the length, angle and shape of the leaf segment. The two structures most used to distinguish one fan palm from another were the leaf structure and the spine structure.

Palm 1: Orange Edged Palm

Morphotype 1 (Indiv36)


  • Lambir Hills NP HQ, Entrance to rainforest.

Date: 11 June 2010

Description: This morphotype is my favorite fan palm. The palm is about 5m tall. The stems do not have an indentation at the top, so the stems appear 'full'. The two sharp edges of the stem are bright orange and have a line of dark, worm-like spines protruding from it. The leaf is found at the end of the stem without completely divided segments. The leaf segments only split half-way to the center. The tips of the leaf segments appear sharp.

File: Palm_1_iv.jpg File: Palm_1_i.jpg File: Palm_1_ii.jpg

Palm 2: Dark Flat-leaved Fan Palm

Morphotype 2 (Indiv38)


  • Lambir Hills NP HQ, under bridge leading into rainforest.

Date: 11 June 2010

Description: This palm was also found towards the entrance of the rainforest in Lambir NP. This palm was also around 5m tall. The stems did not have any spines on them and there was a deep 'ridge' at the top of the stems that made the stems appear hollow. The leaves were dark green. The leaf segments of were often grouped together. These groups of leaf segments were divided by a split from the edge to the centre. The leaf segments within a group could be completely joined, but were mainly split along their creases. The segment tips were rounded rather than pointy.

Palm 3: Flat Edged Palm

Morphotype 3 (Indiv64)


  • Lambir Hills, Kinabalu National Park, Maliau Basin

Date: 11 June 2010

Description: This palm was exceedingly common. With the exceptions of Gaya Island and Mt Kinabalu, this palm was seen everywhere we went. The stem of the palm was slightly indented with small sharkfin like spines along the edges pointing towards the trunk. The edges of the leaves had a 'zig-zag' shape, where the leaf segments were indented when looking from above. The leaf edges appear 'smooth' in comparison to the leaf edges of the first two palms. The leaf surface was not flat but 'zig-zag' as well (see top picture). The leaf segments were usually grouped together. These groups were split from the edge of the leaf to the centre of the leaf along a leaf crease. This 'folded' leaf structure meant that even the leaves with the largest diameter would not bend to the floor as much as other palm types.

Palm 4: Dark Flat Edged Palm

Morphotype 3 (Indiv65)


  • Maliau Basin, understory of primary forest

Date: 29 June 2010

Description: This palm resembles Palm 3 in a variety of ways. The leaf structure is essentially the same. This palm appeared darker than palm 3 even though light availability appeared to be similar. Both palms were found in the rainforest under story. Interestingly, the stems and spines appeared to vary more than the leaves. The stem was 'full', even bulging a little out towards the top. The spines were triangular, originated from the edges, and pointed away from the stem edges and perpendicular to the stem.

Palm 5: Sapi Palm

Morphotype 3 (Indiv70)
  • Pulau Sapi

Date: 19 June 2010

Description: This Palm was found a few metres away from the waterfront on Pulau Sapi. The two individuals of this morphotype were both above 3m tall. The leaves resemble those of Palm 1: leaf segments are split half way to the centre of the leaf and the leaf segment tips are pointed. The stem, however, has more basic spines. The spines are triangular, pointed away from the stem and towards the trunk.


The open source programme Mesquite was used to build a character matrix of the collected morphotypes.

File: Palm_matrix.png

The character matrix was exported to the programme phylip to create trees based on the categorical morphological data.

File: Palm_phylip.png

The tree was imported back into Mesquite where it is possible to trace the character development of each morphotype.

File: Palm_tree.png

Our TF mentioned that the tree is unrooted without an outgroup. After adding an 'outgroup' to the data it turned out that Palm 2 was most closely related to the Non-Palm. This resulted in the following rooted tree:

File: Rooted_palm_tree.png


Individual Determined by Date Taxon Genus Species Morphotype
Indiv36 Sam 6 July 2010 Light Thorny Palm
Indiv38 Sam 6 July 2010 Flat Leaved Fan Palm
Indiv64 Sam 8 July 2010 Flat Edged Palm
Indiv65 Sam 8 July 2010 Dark Green Fan Palm
Indiv70 Sam 8 July 2010 Sapi Palm