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Campus Palm Guide
alms are icons of the Tropics, but their range and impact extend far beyond the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. In
nature, palm fruits are important food resources for many species of wild animals. Wherever they occur, palms are used
by local people for construction materials, thatch, fiber, food, oils, wax, sugar and alcohol. A few palms have become agronomic crops and enter into world commerce: palm oil and palm kernel oil (from the fruits and seeds, respectively, of the
African Oil Palm, Elaeis guineensis), coconut and coconut oil (from Cocos nucifera), dates (Phoenix dactylifera), rattans (various
species) and carnauba wax (Copernicia prunifera). A Brazilian palm fruit known as açaí has recently gone international. Here
in South Florida, palms are important ornamental landscape plants. They enhance the lush look of South Florida.
Because palms are so important, both ecologically and culturally, this guide was prepared to interpret the palms growing
around the pond, east of Viertes Haus (VH), south of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) and west of Owa Ehan (OE).
These same palm species, along with several others, are found throughout the campus, but this guide is limited to the palms
in this area.
The Campus Palm Guide was made possible by grant from the South Florida Palm Society.
Acoelorrhaphe wrightii – The Everglades or
Paurotis Palm is native to the Everglades, as
well as wetlands in the Bahamas, western
Cuba, the Yucatan Peninsula and Central
America. The palm forms large clusters of
stems. The black fruits are consumed by birds,
which disperse the seeds.
Adonidia merrillii – The Christmas Palm gets its
common name from the clusters of bright red
fruits that are abundant in December. This palm
is native to limestone islands the Philippines but
is cultivated throughout the world.
Attalea crassispatha – One of the most endangered
palms in the world, the Carossier is native to a small
area in Haiti, where its habitat is being destroyed by
human activities and livestock grazing.
Bismarckia nobilis – The Bismarck
Palm is native to western Madagascar. It looks similar to the Blue
Lontar Palm (Latania loddigesii),
to which it is closely related.
With practice, one can easily tell
the difference between the two
species. The Bismarck Palm is
more cold-hardy, taller and has
threadlike filaments between the
leaflets. This species is a popular
landscape plant because of its
sivery blue leaves.
Carpentaria acuminata – The Carpentaria Palm
was introduced to Florida from its native Australia
in the 1970s. It is fast-growing, with a graceful
crown, and produces beautiful clusters of small,
red fruits.
Caryota mitis – The Fishtail Palm of Southeast
Asia is remarkable for its
flowering habit: clusters
of flowers emerge from
the stem from the top
down. After the lowermost flowers produce
fruits, the stem will die,
but the palm produces
other stems. It gets its
common name from the
shape of the leaflets. The
juice of the fruit can irritate skin.
Coccothrinax argentea – The Guano of Hispaniola is a tall,
solitary palm with palmate leaves. The leaves are commonly
used to manufacture brooms.
Coccothrinax crinita – Commonly called the Old Man
Palm, this species occurs only
in Pinar del Río, Cuba, where
it is critically endangered.
Only 61 adult palms are
known to survive in the wild.
The long, shaggy fibers that
clothe the trunk are distinctive for this species.
Cocos nucifera – The Coconut is one of the most useful
palms in the world. The trunk is used for construction, the
leaves for thatch, fibers, brooms and mats, and of course,
the seeds are edible and a source of oil commonly used in
soaps and cosmetics. It is cultivated worldwide but thought
to have originated in the islands of the western Pacific.
Dictyosperma album –
The Princess Palm is
native to the Mascarene Islands of the
Indian Ocean. Their
graceful, pinnate
leaves and ease of
culture make this
palm a popular
choice for landscape
Dypsis decaryi – The Triangle Palm gets its common
name from its three-sided crown of leaves. Its native
habitat is a narrow transition zone between rainforest
and spiny desert in southern Madagascar.
Dypsis lutescens – the
Areca Palm is native
to Madagascar, where
it is endangered in
the wild. It is, however, one of the most
widely cultivated ornamental palms in
the world. The specific epithet means
“yellowish” and refers
to the yellowish cast
to the leaves and
stems of this palm.
Hyophorbe lagenicaulis – The Bottle Palm is native to
the island of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, where it
is critically endangered. It is an easy-to-grow palm
with a striking, bottle-shaped trunk topped with a
few pinnate leaves.
Hyophorbe verschaffeltii – The Spindle Palm, like its close relative the Bottle Palm, is native to Mauritius, where it is endangered. It is grows easily and produces a thickened,
spindle-shaped trunk. This species is more cold-tolerant than
the related Bottle Palm.
Latania loddigesii – The Blue Latan Palm is native
to the islands of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean.
Male and female flowers occur on separate plants,
and both are necessary in order to produce fruits.
Leucothrinax morrisii – Until recently, the unique identity of the
Brittle Thatch Palm or Keys Thatch Palm was hiding in plain
sight! Long known as Thrinax morrisii, this species was placed
in a new genus in 2008, after botanists found that its DNA sequences differed from those of true Thrinax species. The Brittle Thatch Palm occurs in the Lower Keys, as well as the
Bahamas, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Licuala spinosa – Known
in the nursery trade as
the Spiny Licuala. Both
the common and scientific names refer to this
palm’s leafstalks, which
are heavily armed with
stout teeth. It forms clusters of stems. In its native
Southeast Asia, it occurs
in swamps.
Livistona chinensis – Native to southern China, Taiwan
and Japan, the Chinese Fan Palm is widely cultivated
around the world. Its blue-green fruits are highly ornamental and borne in great abundance. They are
not edible.
Livistona decora – The Ribbon Palm gets its common name from
the narrow, drooping segments of the leaves. It is native to
Queensland, Australia, but is cultivated around the world. It is a
fast-growing palm, popular with palm enthusiasts. This species was
formerly known as Livistona decipiens.
Livistona saribus – Native to Southeast
Asia, where it occurs in swamps and
wet forest, sometimes in large colonies,
the Serdang or Taraw Palm is a large
palm with vicious teeth along its leafstalk.
Phoenix canariensis – The Canary Island Date Palm has
been in cultivation in Florida since the 1880s. It is found in
the wild only in the Canary Islands, where the sap it
tapped from living palms to make a syrup. The fruits are
edible but a poor substitute for the true Date (Phoenix
Phoenix dactylifera – The Date Palm is one of mankind’s
oldest cultivated crops. The Date Palm is a cultigen, a
crop species that does not exist in the wild form. These
palms are purely ornamental, as the fruit quality is poor
in Florida’s wet climate.
Phoenix reclinata – The Senegal Date Palm is native to a wide
area of tropical East Africa. This palm produces large clusters of
stems. As in all species of Phoenix, the fruits are edible, but they
are not as large as those of the true date palm (see above).
Phoenix roebelenii –
From the Mekong
River of Southeast
Asia comes the
Pygmy Date Palm, a
small palm that can
have either a solitary
trunk or multiple
trunks. Beware of the
long spines at the
base each leaf; they
inflict wounds that
are prone to infection. The trunk has
knobby projections
that are distinctive to
this species.
Phoenix rupicola –
The Cliff Date
Palm is native to
India and Bhutan.
The trunk is always solitary, and
the flattened
fronds twist so
that the leaflets
are held perpendicular to the sky.
Ptychosperma elegans – The Solitaire Palm is native to
Queensland, Australia, but widely cultivated in South
Florida. The red fruits are consumed by birds. The trunk
is solitary, but growers often plant two or three palms together in a group, as are the examples planted here.
Ptychosperma macarthurii – The Macarthur Palm is a clustering palm, forming large, narrow clumps of slender stems. It
is native to New Guinea and adjacent northern Australia. This
palm was popular in Florida in the mid-20th Century, but it
has since fallen out of fashion. The small, red fruits are decorative.
Ravenea rivularis – The
Majesty Palm is from Madagascar, where it grows in
swamps. Fortunately, this
palm will also grow on dry
land. It was introduced to
cultivation in Florida in the
1990s and is now popular
around the world.
Roystonea regia – The national tree of Cuba, the Royal Palm
also grows naturally in Florida, the Bahamas, and the Yucatan
Peninsula. It is fast-growing and stately, and its fruits are enjoyed by birds and bats. It is cultivated around the world.
Sabal causiarum – The Puerto
Rican Hat Palm, so named
because its leaves were once
used for weaving hats, is native to Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. It is a large palm
with a massive trunk, much
larger than the related Sabal
palmetto. Its flowers and
fruits attract and sustain
Sabal palmetto – The state tree of both Florida and South
Carolina, the Cabbage Palm has many uses by Florida’s indigenous people. Seminoles call it Taal Choobe and use the
leaves for thatch. It is also an important wildlife resource. Its
flowers attract scores of insects, and birds feast upon the
Syagrus romanzoffiana – The Queen
Palm is cultivated
throughout Florida
and southern California because it is
cold-hardy and easy
to grow. It is native
to southern Brazil,
Paraguay, Uruguay
and northeastern Argentina. The Queen
Palm is a relative of
the coconut and, like
the coconut, has oily
Thrinax radiata – Our
native Thatch Palm can
be found in the Upper
Keys, but it also occurs
naturally in Hispaniola,
Cuba, Jamaica and
coastal Yucatan Peninsula. The white fruits are
consumed by birds.
Veitchia arecina – A tall, slender palm with red
fruits, the Montgomery Palm is widely used
in Florida landscapes. It is native to the Vanuatu Islands in the western Pacific.
Washintonia robusta – The Mexican Fan Palm is native to
northwestern Mexico. It is a fast-growing species that
can grow very tall. The genus name was given to these
palms to honor George Washington, one of only three
US presidents for whom plants have been named.
Wodyetia bifurcata – The Fox-Tail Palm gets
its name from the shape of its leaf, in which
the spreading leaflets give it a bushy, fox-tail
appearance. Surprisingly, this species was
discovered in 1983 in Queensland, Australia,
at a time when most botanist believed the
palms of Australia were well known.
Zombia antillarum – The
trunks of this clustering palm
from Hispaniola are clothed
in spiny leaf sheathes that are
decorative but dangerous.
The Zombie Palm occurs in
seasonally dry habitats, often
on soils rich in nickel and
other heavy metals.
Text & photos: © Scott Zona, Ph.D., Dept. of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, Florida 33199 USA.