Island in the Delta
Island in the Delta
Elephants at Dusk
Elephants at Dusk
Acacia Tree at Mombo Camp
Acacia Tree at Mombo Camp

Real Fan Palm

Real Fan Palm
Setswana Name: 
Scientific Name: 
Hyphaene petersiana
Palm Family (Arecaceae)


The palm tree epitomises the Okavango Delta. The mere mention of this tree conjures up the image of a magnificent sunset with palm trees in silhouette. Not only does it provide one of the most striking landscapes the Okavango has to offer, but it also plays an immensely important role in the sustenance of Delta inhabitants - both animals and humans. This majestic tree grows up to 20m high and has a bare stem which often shows a slight swelling in the middle of the trunk.

As the English name "Fan palm" suggests, the leaves are fan-shaped. This is the main distinguishing factor when compared with the only other palm species in the Delta, the Wild date palm (Phoenix reclinata), which has feather-shaped leaves. Short palm scrub often occurs in dense clumps underneath the tall specimens and is formed by the development of suckers, each of which produces several stems at the base of a parent stem. The tennis ball-sized fruits take two years to mature and up to two years to fall and therefore may be seen on the tree all year round.


The cylindrical grey-brown stem has distinctive rings, with scars where leaves had been attached previously.


Large, up to 1,3m in diametre and fan-shaped. Green when young, yellow-brown when old.


Sexes separate on different trees. The male flowers are short-lived and produced in short spikes. The female flowers are produced in large, branched sprays.


Almost spherical. Shiny russet-brown with 5-6cm in diametre. A single seed is surrounded by a fibrous pulp.


September to October.


January to March


This species is covering northern parts of Botswana. In the Okavango Delta the species is very common, often forming homogenous island communities which cover the entire island. These trees grow well in areas with a shallow, slightly saline water-table and are therefore prevalent around pans. For this reason they occur on the edges of sand islands.

Pale salt crystals are formed as the water evaporates and these are clearly visible as a white carpet on the surrounding grass-cover. A by-product of these salts, called "calate", is used by termites to build their mounds. They mix "calate" with their saliva and clay in order to fashion these unique structures.