Dwarf, rarely moderate, clustering, acaulescent or shrubby, armed, pleonanthic, polygamous or dioecious palm. Stem ± erect, clothed with very close, persistent petiole bases and fibrous sheaths, eventually becoming ± bare. Leaves induplicate, palmate, marcescent; sheath disintegrating into a mass of fine fibres; petiole elongate, slender, adaxially flattened or slightly rounded, abaxially rounded or angled, densely covered with caducous white tomentum, armed along the margins with robust, bulbous-based spines pointing toward the leaf tip; adaxial hastula well developed, ± acute, abaxial hastula poorly developed; blade divided to 2/3 – 3/4 the radius into single-fold segments, the segments further divided to ca. 1/2 – 2/3 along the abaxial folds, folds longitudinally striate, tips ± rounded or pointed, abaxially sparsely to densely covered with caducous tomentum, midribs prominent abaxially, transverse veinlets obscure. Inflorescences solitary, interfoliar, very short, branching to 2 orders, staminate, pistillate, and hermaphroditic inflorescences similar; peduncle very short, oval in cross-section; prophyll conspicuous, tubular, somewhat inflated, laterally 2-keeled, splitting apically into 2 triangular lobes, covered with dense tomentum especially along keels; peduncular bracts absent; rachis short, but longer than the peduncle; rachis bracts inconspicuous, the proximal enclosed within the prophyll; first-order branches bearing minute slender bracts; rachillae short, very crowded, glabrous. Flowers solitary, spirally arranged, borne on short tubercles subtended by minute bracts; abnormalities in all floral parts frequent; sepals 3, triangular, low, glabrous, united at the base; petals 3, similar in staminate, pistillate, and hermaphroditic flowers, imbricate, distally triangular, united at the very base; stamens 6, united by their broad triangular filaments to form a conspicuous staminal ring folded in young stages, much expanded at anthesis, anthers yellow, oblong, medifixed, latrorse; staminodes similar to stamens but less-well-developed filaments and empty anthers; carpels 3, distinct, follicular, glabrous, with conspicuous recurved apical stigmas, ovule hemianatropous, attached basally; pistillodes 1–3 minute carpels, or absent. Pollen ellipsoidal, bi-symmetric or slightly asymmetric, or infrequently, oblate triangular; aperture comprising 2 parallel distal sulci, narrowly separated by an ectexinous bridge, less frequently a trichotomosulcus; ectexine tectate densely perforate or finely and densely reticulate, outer aperture margins similar, tectum between sulci sometimes similar or psilate-perforate; infratectum columellate; longest axis 27–31 µm; post-meiotic tetrads tetrahedral [1/1]. Fruit developing from 1–3 carpels, product of each carpel globose to oblong, ellipsoidal, rich brown, pale-dotted, stigmatic remains apical; epicarp smooth, mesocarp thin, ± fleshy, rich in butyric acid, endocarp scarcely developed. Seed globose to ellipsoidal, basally attached; endosperm ruminate, also with a conspicuous lateral intrusion of seed coat; embryo lateral. Germination remote-tubular; eophyll entire, narrow, plicate. Cytology: 2n = 36, or 36 ±1, or 36 ±2.
Widely cultivated and very variable, particularly in leaf form and fruit shape. It is found on sandy or rocky ground, usually near the sea but up to 600 m altitude or more on coastal hills, usually acaulescent in the wild, but in the absence of burning, producing a well-developed trunk as in cultivated specimens.