Hyphaene petersiana, in Africa the makalani palm and in South Africa the northern lala palm or mokola palm, is a fan-leaved tree of the Arecaceae family (SA Tree List No. 24).
The grey-green leaves or fronds are palmately compound on long petioles. The leaflet base is asymmetric. A leaf may reach a length of up to 2 m with black, sharp and recurving spines along the margins of the leaf stalk. The tree is often seen inland in clumps that keep spreading through suckering.
The tree grows a large taproot, making it hard to transplant. It is also difficult to grow from seed and slow-growing. The fact that it thrives in saline or brackish water may complicate matters further for gardeners.
The distribution of this tree in South Africa is restricted to the eastern low altitude regions of Mpumalanga and Limpopo. The southern lala palm is the closely related and similar looking tree, Hyphaene coriacea, that grows along the KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambican coasts (Coates Palgrave, 2002; Van Wyk and Gericke, 2000; Van Wyk and Van Wyk, 1997).