Cocos palms and flying-foxes

The cocos palm is an invasive weed introduced to Australia from South America and is a threat to flying-foxes.

About the cocos palm

Cocos palms (Syagrus romanzoffianum) are popular street and garden trees because they are inexpensive and fast-growing. They grow to an average height of 12 metres and leaves may be up to five metres long. 

Each tree produces a large amount of fruit, which occurs in large clusters. Each fruit is up to 2.5 cm in diameter. The fruit consists of a hard nut surrounded with a thin layer of fibrous flesh that is orange and sticky when ripe. 

The seeds germinate easily on land and wetlands next to rivers and streams (riparian areas) and dry eucalypt forests. They spread easily and displace native species.

Flying-foxes and other animals feed on cocos palm fruit as an alternative to native foods. As a result, some residents have found that cocos palms on their property attract flying-foxes looking for food. 

Residents also report that after feeding on cocos palm fruit, the flying-fox droppings can be very sticky and difficult to clean off cars and outdoor areas.

Some residents choose to remove cocos palms from their gardens to remove the food source and therefore unwelcome visitors. In some cases, local councils have helped with subsidies for tree removal.

Cocos palm
Cocos palm fruit
Impacts on flying-foxes

Removing cocos palms helps flying-foxes.

Flying-foxes attracted to cocos palms may be injured or die.

  • When eaten green by flying-foxes, cocos palm fruit can be toxic.
  • Sticky palm fruit 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 try to escape.
  • Flying-foxes can be trapped in the strappy frond leaves, causing distress or death and they can damage 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 inappropriate netting, flying-foxes can be caught and trapped.

Cocos palm fruit can also attract unwelcome flying-foxes to your garden, street or local parks.

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.

If approved by council, consider removing existing cocos palms.

If trees can’t be removed, they should be managed so that their fruit is 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, because it won't reshoot. 
  • In gardens and urban areas it's 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 fruit is removed, make sure it's disposed of appropriately.

Some native palm alternatives include the Bangalow palm (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana), cabbage tree palm (Livistona australis) and the walking stick palm (Linospadix monostachyus).