Nature conservation

Native animals

Cocos palms: a threat to flying-foxes

Every year many flying-foxes are injured or killed by Cocos palms. As well as posing a physical threat, abundant Cocos palm fruit can attract unwanted flying-foxes to your garden or street.

About the Cocos palm

Common name: Cocos palm

Scientific name: Syagrus romanzoffianum

Alternative names: Queen Palm, Arecastrum romanzoffianum, Cocos plumosa

Origin: Native of South America

Description: Cocos palms are a large single stemmed tree with an average height of 12 metres and leaves of up to five metres long. The fruits occur in large clusters and consist of a hard nut surrounded with a thin layer of fibrous flesh that is orange and sticky when ripe. Each fruit is up to 2.5 cm in diameter.

Cocos palms are popular street and garden trees because they are inexpensive and fast-growing.

Dispersal: Cocos palms produce large numbers of fruits that are readily dispersed by flying foxes, birds, possums, humans and gravity. The seeds germinate easily in land and wetlands next to rivers and streams (riparian areas) and dry eucalypt forests.

a cocos palm showing the seeds

A noxious weed

The Cocos palm is a noxious weed. It is listed in the Noxious Weeds (Weed Control) Order 2014 published in the NSW Government Gazette, under the Noxious Weeds Act 1993. It is also listed as a Class 3 (regionally controlled) noxious weed for Lord Howe Island.

Impacts on flying-foxes

Every year many flying-foxes are injured or killed by Cocos palms.

Injury or death can occur in a number of ways:

  • When eaten green by flying-foxes, Cocos palm fruits can be toxic.
  • Sticky palm fruits can cause severe constipation. This causes dehydration and death in younger flying-foxes.
  • Flying-fox toes can get caught in palm flower sheaths, causing injuries as animals attempt to escape.
  • Flying-foxes can get caught in the strappy frond leaves, causing distress or death and can damage their wing membranes on the tough flower spikes.
  • Young flying-foxes can get seeds caught behind their canine teeth, leading to a slow death by starvation.
  • Flying-foxes may come down to ground level to eat dropped seeds, increasing their vulnerability to attack from dogs and cats.
  • If the palms are planted near barbed wire or netting, flying-foxes can be entangled and trapped.

Control

Council requirements

In many local council areas, most trees on both public and private property are protected. Before you decide to remove Cocos palms from your property, check with your local council.

Local councils are responsible for protecting trees through their Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs). These orders are Environmental Planning Instruments made under the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

Tree Preservation Orders can prohibit the ring barking, cutting down, lopping, removing, injuring or wilful destruction of specified trees, without council consent.

If you are considering doing any of these things to a palm on your property, check first with your local council to see if it is protected under a TPO. There are heavy fines for breaching a TPO.

The exact terms of Tree Preservation Orders vary from council to council.

Removing the palm or fruit

If approved by council, consider removing existing Cocos palms.

If trees can’t be removed, they should be managed so that their fruits are cut down when they are green, before they ripen.

  • In bushland settings, individual palms can be destroyed by cutting the crown off below the lowest frond. There is no need to treat the stump with herbicide, as it will not reshoot.
  • In gardens and urban areas it is more visually appealing to remove the palm at ground level instead of leaving a stump.
  • It’s important to hand pull or chip any seedlings that come up around the base of the palm and pick up any dropped fruit.
  • When fruits are removed, make sure they are disposed of in sealed plastic bags.

Other palms to plant

Some native palm alternatives include the Bangalow Palm (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana), Cabbage Tree Palm (Livistona australis) and the Walking Stick Palm (Linospadix monostachyus).

References

Australian Weeds Committee (No date) Weed identification - Queen Palm, Cocos Palm. Accessed 28 April 2016.

Ballina Shire (No date) Environmental Weed Alert – Cocos Palm or Queen Palm. Accessed 28 April 2016.

Bat Conservation and Rescue Queensland (No date) Cocos Palm Queen Palm – Killer of Flying-foxes. Accessed 28 April 2016.

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry & Biosecurity Queensland (2013) Cocos or Queen Palm Fact Sheet. The State of Queensland, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Accessed 28 April 2016.

Department of Primary Industries (2014) Cocos Palm Fact Sheet.  Accessed 28 April 2016.

Gardening Australia (2007) Fact Sheet: Cocos Palm. Accessed 28 April 2016.

NSW Government (2014) Government Gazette of the State of NSW Number 23. Accessed 28 April 2016.

Page last updated: 18 August 2016