This unusual dioecious palm is one of only two species in Madagascar to grow in water. The trunk is relatively short and is swollen, particularly at the base. Trunk height: 2.5 - 8 m. Around 14 - 16 arching leaves stretch out from the crown and each support 59 - 63 stiff leaflets on either side of the leaf axis, giving the frond a feather-like appearance. The fruits are orange and the single seed within is covered by a hard, black seed coat. The species epithet 'musicalis' was given to this palm by a Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew botanist after he heard the musical sounds of the palm fruits dropping into the river below. Classified as Critically Endangered (CR - B1+2c) on the IUCN Red List 2002.
Ravenea musicalis is found only in a single river in the far south of Madagascar; The population consists of about 450 individuals known in the wild. Inhabits flowing water, which may vary in depth from 0.5 to 2.5 metres. As this palm is only known from a single river it is therefore extremely vulnerable to chance events, such as storms, and to habitat disturbance. Local people use the timber from this palm to fashion small canoe-like boats known as 'pirogues'. The area near where Ravenea musicalis occurs has been earmarked for large-scale titanium oxide mining; if mining goes ahead, the impact on the ecology of all surrounding areas could be very severe and could affect the survival of this species. This species has proved to be difficult to maintain in cultivation.