This single-stemmed palm, is a large, erect tree that grows up to 12–20 m tall. The grey trunk is covered with widely-spaced leaf-scar rings. The characteristic compound leaves are bright to deep green and are divided into distinctive fishtail-like leaflets and long drooping clusters of small, white flowers. These palms only flower once in their lifetime and die after flowering. Unusually, flowering begins at the top of the trunk and proceeds downwards, sometimes for several years. The fruit matures to a round, red drupe (fruit with an outer fleshy part that surrounds a hard shell with a seed inside) about 1 cm wide and containing a single seed.