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In Morocco, it is not rare to find this tree in some gardens, very majestic. Originated in Madagascar, the traveller’s tree belongs to the family of the Strelitziacea. It is not really a tree but a herbaceous plant with a lacunaria trunk which makes it look like a palm tree or indeed to a banana tree.
With its size and shape, it is noticed from afar. When mature, the lower trunk measures about ten metres in height which brings the total height of the tree to some 20m. This tree is remarkable for its leaves aligned in a single plane with a distinctive fan shape. Their base shaped like a cup hold rainwater and so, this characteristic allowed the traveller to quench his thirst. In Madagascar, these small reservoirs house some very original species like batrachians, coleopteran and mosquitoes. A simple machete strike at the base of the trunk releases a particularly liquid sap whose taste is very close to water. It is possible to harvest a litre of liquid for every machete strike after the rainy season when the tree is full of water.
It is difficult to grow the traveller’s tree apart from regions with a soft climate as it cannot bear frost, unless you own a big veranda. Its flower season lasts practically all year: the tree produces big white flowers not unlike the ones from the bird of paradise tree but much bigger and truly splendid. Its pollination is assumed by bats and ruffed lemurs. Its fruit are capsules with six loculi resembling ligneous bananas and containing numerous seeds wrapped in striking blue fibres which attract birds.
The traveller’s tree is very common too in the Reunion Island, in Mauritius, on the Comoros archipelago, (on Mayotte island in particular), in Guyana, in Guadeloupe, in Martinique and in the gardens of tropical areas like Thailand, Cameroon etc but also in such countries as Morocco where the climate is soft and where it was imported to be used as an ornamental plant.
On the East coast of Madagascar, its different parts are used as building material for the traditional huts making them fresh and practical. The sliced petioles, called falafa, are used to the confection of wall panels. The leaves, once dried, called raty, are used for the making of blankets and finally, from the trunk are cut flexible planks, called rapaka, that are used for the making of floors. The fibres from the leaves are used to make paper paste. A multiuse tree, it also provides an edible fat, a bit like the butter tree in tropical countries and as an emblem for Madagascar, it is stylized on the planes of the national airplane company symbolising travel and exoticism.