Simplicity, efficiency, endurance and connection seem to be recurring themes within our forests. What factors contribute to the continuance of the spectacular fan palms, Licuala ramsayi that have spanned 170million years? Fossil records of these plants have been found in Antarctica and are acknowledged as ancient Gondwana plants.
The leaf design is incredibly smart. Its situation in complex lowland forest, around and sometimes in small creeks indicates a love of water. Each huge leaf, about a metre in diameter is circular and fluted to catch the maximum amount of rain and to funnel it into an opening cleverly positioned in the centre of the leaf with a nozzle to direct the water into the hollow stem. The young leaves are perfectly positioned to catch all of the water and deliver it to the base of the stem, where it joins the trunk. There are no branches, just a single trunk. The roots of each stem snuggle into a soft brown fabric that absorbs and retains water. A new emerging leaf grows out of the trunk as a single blade, about half a metre in length. It is protected by eight sheath leaves that emerge and grow in eight different directions and overlap to form a complete cover around the base of the newly-forming leaf. When it is fully grown, the blade opens like a fan and spreads out to display its full circular grandeur, changing from light green to mid green. Older surrounding leaves begin to droop and become less efficient, but even in old age they have their purpose. The stems have prickles along each side, carefully arranged and alternating inwards, then outwards life a carding machine. As the older leaves start to decline with age, the prickles catch into the brown sheath leaves and pull the fibres apart to form a soft brown highly absorptive fabric, woven on the cross that catches falling leaves, twigs, and seeds. Thus any seed that falls into the neck of a fan palm tree finds a ready source of food and water in which to germinate. The branching nature of the leaves facilitates the deflection of a falling seed into the centre of the plant, where it may grow. The leaves have drip-tips, perfectly zig-zagged edges around the circumference that facilitates hydration around the plant when it rains and condensation on the large surface area of the leaf during the cold, dry times of the year. Cool winds come down from the mountain at night, as temperatures fall and drops of water form on the leaves to water the forest floor even when it is dry. Tough, tubular roots at the base of the plant act as capillary tubes to suck up water and direct it to the top of the plant to facilitate growth. The roots also hold the trunk of the tree above the water, which accumulates in the wet, and develop snorkels so that they can breathe above water.
When you consider the estimated age of the forest, 170million years, then you begin to realise that it is the smartest, most adaptable species that survive and also, that survival relies on relationships within a successful ecosystem.