Solitary, monoecious, unarmed, pleonanthic tree palm. Stem 6-12 m tall, 10-15 cm dbh, brown to grey, with prominent leaf scars. Leaves (7-)10-12, ascending to arcuately spreading, regularly pinnate. Leaf sheath caducous, forming a prominent and tight, cylindrical to swollen crownshaft, covered abaxially with a dense and short brownish-grey tomentum, 0.6-0.7 m long; petiole concave adaxially, more or less winged by sheath extensions, 15-20 cm long; rachis slightly to strongly recurved, 1.8-2.1 m long; pinnae (25-)30-35 on each side, lanceolate-terete, regularly arranged, moderately stiff, often curled apically, directed forward and upward, glossy dark green; nerves punctuated or covered by minute scales abaxially, with sparse to abundant, small longifixed or medifixed ramenta all along except on tip; basal pinnae 28-32 x 0.6-0.7 cm, median pinnae 60-90 x 3-5 cm wide, apical pinnae ca. 25 x 1.7-2.5 cm. Inflorescences 1-4 simultaneously, infrafoliar, to 80 cm long and 90 cm wide; stiffly spreading to moderately pendulous, covered with a dense, short, white, hairy-scaly indument; peduncle 7-12 cm long and 4-5 cm wide, flattened; prophyll incompletely encircling peduncle at insertion, slightly shorter than peduncular bract, this 50-60 cm long, thin, chartaceous, rostrate, covered outside by a short whitish-greyish tomentum of appressed scales, glabrous inside; rachis ca. 14 cm long, with 10-15 first-order branches; rachillae 30-45 cm long and (3-)4-5 mm in diameter. Staminate flowers 3.2-4 mm long; 3.3-4 mm diam. at late bud; sepals 1.8-2 mm long, 1.5-1.9 mm wide, circular-oblong, rounded towards the apex, distinct, imbricate; petals 3.1-3.3 mm long, 2-2.2 mm wide, elliptic, glabrous, slightly connate at the base, valvate at the apex; stamens 6, 3 mm long, filaments 2 mm long, 0.3 diam., cylindrical, basally connate, apically connecting to the anther through a 1 mm long, flat articulation; anthers 2 mm long, 1 mm wide, dorsifixed, bifid at the base and apex, latrorse; pistillode 2.1-2.3 mm long, 1 mm diam. at mid-height, with no stigmatic branches differentiated; ovoid-oblong. Pistillate flowers 4 mm long, 3.5 mm diam. in late bud, borne throughout the rachillae, supported with a short stalk; sepals 3-4 mm long, 3-3.5 mm wide, almost circular, only shortly connate at the base, imbricate; petals 4 mm long, 3-3.2 mm wide, slightly connate at the base, imbricate but open at the apex; staminodes 3 at one side of the gynoecium, shortly connate at the base, 1-2 long, 0.5-0.8 mm wide at the base, acute at the apex; tooth-like; gynoecium syncarpous, 3.8 mm long, 3.5 mm diam., ovoid, 3-locular, ovary wall thickened towards the apex; stigmas 3, thick and elongated, recurved covered with short papillae on the ventral side. Fruit subglobose, wider than high 10 x 11 mm, with stigmatic remains in upper 1/3, mature, black.
This species is readily distinguished by its peculiar bright-white to yellowish-white indument on inflorescences, and shows almost no variation over its extended and disjunct range. Basselinia sordida is a solitary trunked palm to 8 m tall, with dark, glossy leaves. The palm is very similar to Lepidorrhachis from Lord Howe, and probably prefers a similarly wet and cloudy environment. Basselinia sordida occurs at some of the highest elevations (1508 m) of any palm in New Caledonia, making it a zone 9a palm that can no-doubt tolerate some frost. Almost totally unknown in cultivation, and this is the first time seeds have been commercially available. Widespread but patchily distributed on the ultrabasic mountains of New Caledonia at high elevation (1000-1500 m), where it is found exclusively in primary cloud forest. This species tends to be gregarious where it grows, and reaches or exceeds the forest canopy. Although thought initially to be restricted to two nearby ultra-basic massifs of central-western New Caledonia (Mé Maoya and Boulinda), it has been subsequently collected or sighted farther north and east (Tchingou massif) and also in the southern massif, both on the western side (Dent de Saint Vincent, Pic du Rocher) and on the eastern side (Haute Neuménie). It is absent from the North East due to lack of ultrabasic substrate in this sector.
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