This amazing genus of palms to my knowledge was first introduced into cultivation in Australia in the mid 1980s at the beginning of the palm craze that was to last 20 years. The publishing of Palms of Malaysia with its classic photo of Johannesteijsmannia magnifica and Johannesteijsmannia lanceolata side by side stoked the fires of desire amongst the palm enthusiasts for Joey palms (a shortening of the genus’s somewhat unpronounceable name.) A new highway was built through Malaysia and literally let the light, in causing a mass flowering and fruit set. It was from this fruit set that they were introduced into cultivation.
Johannesteijsmannia altifrons is by far the most common species, with its leaves being green above and below. The leaves are glossy and diamond shaped. It grows easily in the tropics and with care and protection can be grown further south. In the wild, this species has the most northerly distribution being found in Southern Thailand. It is also found in Sumatra. The species found in Sarawak has also been identified as Johannesteijsmannia altifrons but has a much narrower leaf. It can be easily seen in Bako National Park in Sarawak for those that travel to Borneo.
The inflorescence is found at the base and sets distinctive corky fruits.
Of the four species, Johannesteijsmannia perakensis is the slowest in cultivation. It forms a trunk up to 6 metres in height in the wild. These plants are thought to be hundreds of years old. In cultivation no trunk has been seen, despite many years of growth.
The silver underside to huge diamond leaves held upright resulted in one species gaining the epithet ‘magnifica’. Johannesteijsmannia magnifica is just that, with its large diamond shaped leaves 3 metres long and 1 metre wide. This species is the fastest in cultivation and 26 years after introduction they are now producing seed, reducing the pressure on the wild populations.
The Johannesteijsmannia lanceolata in cultivation are yet to produce the narrow leaves (seen on the right) in the classic photo. Whether this is a factor of time, or low light which makes leaves longer and narrower, remains to be seen. I believe where the classic photo was taken has now been flooded by a dam.
All four species are worthy of cultivation. They require warmth, humidity, good drainage and protection from the wind.
Joey palms were named for Johannes Elias Teijsmann (1808-1882), Dutch gardener and botanist at the Buitenzorg Botanical garden in Java. It is now the Kebun Raya Garden, Bogor, Indonesia.