To Edward Ramsay   5 July 1874

Gov. Botanists Office, Mortons Hotel,

Milswyn Str. S. Yarra

near Melbourne



Yesterday, dear Mr Ramsay, I got your letter of the 26 June; and as the Sydney mail leaves again tomorrow morning, I have devoted most part of this Sunday to examine the Palm seeds transmitted by you, especially as you may wish such information, as I may be able to afford, in time for the next English mail. It is with regret, that I can only very imperfectly respond to your call for two very obvious reasons 1, The determination of names of palms from seeds alone is well nigh an impossibility, especially so long as all the species of any part of this continent are not yet fully known, for which purpose of describing even the whole material as yet available for the 7th forthcoming volume of the "Flora"1 is unsufficient.

2, I labor under especial disadvantage for working on palms this moment, because I lent my whole normal collection to Mr Wendland, who works exclusively on Palms; but altho' this took place several years ago, I have up to date not a single line from him on the subject of their elucidation, nor has he returned the original specimens, placing me thus at great inconvenience for further comparisons.

In my "fragmenta" however I have given a full account of several new Australian palms,2 and thus I will give you a short summary of what I know up to this time concerning the Palmaceae of Australia, and I will apply this also now briefly to your species, the albumen of all I have examined this day. I would request you to send me such flowers, fruits & leaves of all species in your possession, and to accompany this material by notes on stature, geographic distribution &c; thus then I shall gladly enter fully into the examination and timely too for utilizing it for the 7th vol. of the Flora under public acknowledgment of the contributor. Remember in using these notes, that any additional palm before it can be proclaimed as new to science though new for Australia, must be compared with the numerous New Caledonian and other polynesian species, as well as with those of the Sunda Islands.3


Palms of Australia

I. Feather-palms.

1, Ptychosperma Seaforthia Miquel (Seaforthia elegans, RBr. but not of most other writing A Tropical species, not to be recognized with safety from R Browns exceeding brief notes without reference to his preserved specimens. Most likely this species is represented by one, which Mr Fitzalan found on islands near Edgecombe Bay,4 where it has a stem 50 feet high yet only a few inches thick. The flowers there are greenish; the stamens more numerous than those of P. Alexandrae; the underside of the leaves green.

2, Ptychosperma Cunninghami Wendland (Seaforthia Cuninnghami Wendl. S. elegans Hook. Bot. Mag. 4961, not of R Brown.)

The Illawarra palm; I should like to know all the localities of this. Your N.4.

3, Ptychosperma Alexandrae F.v.M. The Alexandra palm. Of this I have given a full account with 2 plates in the 5th vol. of my fragmenta (1865.)5 So far as I can judge your seed N.2 belongs to it. Please give me the several localities, which you know of it. I can form no idea of the specific distinctions of the palm of which you sent seeds as N.1. Had I leaves and flowers I should be able to draw up a diagnosis. Give me the differential notes known to you. In the event of it being markedly distinct, it might be called P. Mariae in honor of the Princess of Russia, by which means the name of the two now also English Princesses would be happily united.6 But you must not adopt such a name, until its validity can be most clearly demonstrated, as otherwise I intended to give her imperial Highness name to another palm.7

4, Kentia monostachya F.v.M. (Areca monostachya, Martius). It is a true Kentia, as shown in the fragmenta. vol. VII pag. 82.8 It extends from the M’Leay River to New England & Mt Lindsay. You may know still other localities for it. Mr Hartmann has sent me leaves (but leaves only) of the same or a closely allied species from near Towomba.9 He says the stem of his is 15 feet high and somewhat thicker than that of K. monostachya. What you as N.3. sent from that collector is a Ptychosperma or of some other allied genus according to Albumen, not a Kentia.

5, Kentia Belmoriana Moore & Mueller

6, Kentia Canterburyana Moore & Mueller

7, Kentia Forsteriana Moore & Mueller

8, Kentia Mooreana, FvM.

All from Lord Howe's Island, and all sent to me by Mr Moore as Arecas! A full account of them is given, as far as the material admitted of it, in the 7th vol of the fragmenta pag. 99-102.10

9, Kentia Baueri Seemann (Areca sapida Endlicher not Forster; Areca Baueri J. Hooker) Norfolk Island. This ought to be regarded as belonging to Australia as the island is not very distant & is a dependency of N.S. Wales, altho' Mr Bentham against my wish excluded the Norfolk island plants from the "Flora". I never saw flowers & fruits; have you any?

10, Kentia Wendlandiana F.v.M. Fragm V, 103.11 My specimens are from the Liverpool River. Can you give me any safe additional localities. I am aware that it occurs also on some Northern points of the east coast, for instance Cape Sidmouth, where Dr Curdie gathered it.12

11, another feather palm I have from Mt Elliot, and am just engaged to work it out for the fragmenta. If you have any material for its elucidation, I shall be grateful for it.

12, Calamus obstruens, F.v.M. Fragm. V, 48,13 discovered at Rockingham's Bay by Dallachy, but seen already in Kennedy's unfortunate expedition by Mr Carron in 1848, who may be able to give further information. The pinnae are smooth on the margin not aculeate as in C. australis (the N. S. Wales species), moreover the fruitscales have a far more narrow margin.

13, Calamus Australis (Martius) Described from Fitzroy Island. It seems to me identical with the N.S.W. species, but my material is very imperfect

14, Calamus caryotoides (All Cunningham) said to be also a New South Wales species, with fruits as small as a pea. I never saw such. Have you? I think however, that I have a third (or fourth) Austral. species in my collection. Please send me all your Calami.

15, Cocos nucifera L. It is now known from several places of the Queensland coast & as far south as Broad Sound.

16, Caryota, from Cape York. I have good specimens and believe the species distinct from the several ones of India. I have temporarily called it C. Alberti, and intend to elaborate it for the 7th vol of the flora.14

II. Fan palms

17, Livistona Leichhardtii. FvM. I have cursorily referred to it under this name in the fragmenta.15 It is an extremely tall species, and I found it in drier climatic regions than any other palm, at the rear of Arnhems Land & Carpentaria I have no good flowers & fruits. It is seemingly this palm (from a single leaf received) which induced Mr Giles to name a valley in the Macdonnell Range (Central Australia!) the glen of palms.

18. Livistona Australis (Martius) Coryphya Australis Br. The only Victorian palm, found by me in 1854 in East Gippsland! What are its N.S. Wales and Queensland localities?

19, Livistona inermis RBr.

20 Livistona humilis RBr.

Of none of the two I have specimens. They differ from Livist. Australis in having strings between the segments of the leaves Can I obtain specimens from you? I have a drawing of a noble fan-palm, made during Hann's Expedition to the north of the Endeavour River16 by Mr Norman Taylor. This may belong to L. humilis. Mr Dallachy seems never to have sent good material (any which reached me) of any fan palm or indeed any other palm from Rockinghams Bay. He may not have seen flowers & fruit. Can your N.5 be the true Livistona humilis? Has it a tall stem or not? Has it long thin strings between the segments? Has Hill got it lately? He sent me reluctantly some of his plants, but no palms. Anyhow you might send me your specimens, if only on loan.

Perhaps you have other plants of your last expedition in such a state as to enable me to work them out for the fragmenta, a new number of which will appear in a few weeks.17 The small Cycas with sessile 2 fruited rachis I have described in the last number of the fragmenta as C. Normanbyana.18 I know it as yet only from Port Denison. Cycas media (of which C. angulata seems a variety) is the more common species. I do not know its south terminus; does it reach N.S.W.?

Did you come across any other Musa but my M. Banksii? Mr Hill found one with erect spadix, but as six good species with erect inflorescence are known from India, it remains uncertain what the species may be. I think he speaks of a third one, but then there are nine with pendent spike (all good species) in India irrespective of the two African ones.

If you go out again, you should for your own sake, collect as many plants for drying as ever possible. I will be happy to work them out and give you full credit; and if you wish any particular friend to pay a compliment, I can effect a dedication accordingly. Scitamineae & other plants bad to dry must be exsiccated near the fire without pressure, and simply a few flowers (numbered corresponding to the specimen) be extracted from the head or spike &c, and pressed separately. In all instances fruit-specimens should be collected as carefully as flowering ones. Among the trees must be yet much novelty in the North.

I should gladly accept your offer of a few palmseeds for correspondents, which helps making them known. I cannot purchase them, as the whole working expenses of my ruined Department now are £300! (not £3000) a year, not sufficient to rent the needful buildings. Indeed I think that through me and me alone the large export also of Palm seeds has arisen, as Haage & Schmidt & many others in Germany, France &c had them in first instance, more then a dozen years ago, from me. I ought to have for that some public acknowledgement. I sent test samples to almost all the South European Gardens at the same time.

Regardfully your

Ferd. von Mueller.


R. Brown has only 4 Palms in his prodromus (1810)

How many Australian fern trees do you distinguish?


Areca Baueri

Areca monostachya

Areca sapida

Calamus australis

Calamus caryotoides

Calamus obstruens

Caryota Alberti

Cocos nucifera

Coryphya Australis

Cycas angulata

Cycas media

Cycas Normanbyana

Kentia Baueri

Kentia Belmoriana

Kentia Canterburyana

Kentia Forsteriana

Kentia monostachya

Kentia Mooreana

Kentia Wendlandiana

Livistona Australis

Livistona humilis

Livistona inermis

Livistona Leichhardtii

Musa Banksii


Ptychosperma Alexandrae

Ptychosperma Cunninghami

Ptychosperma Mariae

Ptychosperma Seaforthia


Seaforthia elegans

Bentham (1863-78). Palms were treated on pp. 132-47.
B70.01.01, pp. 82-3; B70.04.01, pp. 99-104; B74.08.01, pp. 221-2; B74.09.02, pp. 233-6. Material for B74.08.01 had been sent to print before this letter was written, while the relevant text for B74.09.02 had probably been drafted.
B65.07.03, pp. 47-8 and Tab. XLIII, XLIV.
Princess Alexandra of Denmark was married to Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Edward, Prince of Wales. In 1874 The Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia married Victoria’s second son, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh.
Her name was not applied to a Ptychosperma species; M named Livistona mariae in B78.11.04, p. 54; he had used the name without description in B75.13.05, p. 222.
Toowoomba, Qld.
North Qld. Curdie was there in 1872 with the Victorian eclipse expedition.
M was forestalled. Caryota albertii was named by Wendland & Drude (1875), pp. 221-3, using M's name as given 'in literis ad H. Wendland 1874' (letter not found); the collector of the Cape York specimen they used is given as 'Dalmel' possibly a misreading of 'Daemel' on M's specimen label (see MEL 67693).
B74.08.01, p. 221.
Cooktown, Qld.
Ramsay specimens of Pandanus pedunculatus , Livistona ramsayi and Ptychosperma cunninghami are mentioned in B74.08.01, pp. 220-2.
B74.04.01, pp. 169-71.

Please cite as “FVM-74-07-05,” in Ɛpsilon: The Ferdinand von Mueller Collection accessed on 26 October 2021,