DixPix Photographs






Palms need no introduction, although the family name Arecaceae may seem a bit foreign, and many still prefer the older name Palmae.  They are an ancient breed, fossils go back at least 80 million years, so they shaded (and fed) the dinosaurs.  Now there are roughly 2600 species, adapted to everything from coasts to rain forests to deserts, but they don't much like the cold.  The flowers are generally small, numerous on a inflorescence, and unisexual. Unfortunately, it is in the flowers that technical details define the difference between species in many cases.  Cameras tend to focus on the tree as a whole or on the fruit, which are usually clustered along slender tendrils of different colors.

For those who want to wade into the subject, there is an informative book by the name of Field Guide to the Palms of the Americas, by Andrew Henderson, Gloria Galeano and Rodrigo Bernal.  The web site of the International Palm Society is at www.palms.org.  The very informative Palmpedia may be accessed at www.palmpedia.net.

In the Amazon Basin especially, palms are of great importance to the lives of the indigenous peoples.  On one hand there is the food from many of the palm fruit.  But of equal importance, is the use of the fronds in thatching, which is a fundamental skill in the construction of housing and of other items.


Let's start with the Walking Palms, or Palmas que Camina. There are two species, this one with a thick cluster of "legs" is Iriartea deltoidea or Pambil, a common species in the western Amazon and important to indigenous communities. The fruit is edible, and these stilt roots are tough, once used for making lances and blowpipes.  Despite rumors, they do not actually walk or move around. Click to see big picture (800x637 pixels; 261 KB)
Iriartea deltoidea is a large tree often with a trunk bulge which gives it the local name of Palma Barrigula.  The wood is exceptionally hard, and finds employment in construction, in making furniture, etc.  The fronds also find some use in thatching. Click to see big picture (557x800 pixels; 149 KB)
The other Walking Palm is Socratea exorrhiza, which goes by names such as Cashapona.  Its stilt roots form a more open cluster, and their interior is used as an aphrodisiac. As with Pambil, the wood is employed in construction. Click to see big picture (800x653 pixels; 229 KB)
Phytelephas macrocarpa is another unusual species known as the Ivory Nut Palm. Within these clusters are Tagua Nuts which can be carved as Vegetable Ivory, or Marfil Vegetal. It is now mainly used for making artesanial jewelry. Click to see big picture (800x697 pixels; 255 KB)
A fuller view of the Ivory Nut Palm at the Calanoa Reserve in the Colombian Amazon.  It may be found from here around the rim of the Amazon Basin to Bolivia. Click to see big picture (800x707 pixels; 301 KB)
Phytelephas tenuicaulis is the Ecuadorian Ivory Palm, with nuts that can be carved in a similar manner.  Here growing at the Sacha Reserve in eastern Ecuador. Click to see big picture (800x632 pixels; 240 KB)
Leaves if the Phytelephas palms are also used in moderately coarse thatching, here being demonstrated in Ecuador. Click to see big picture (800x730 pixels; 226 KB)
Thatching is definitely an art, and an important one where roofs must withstand tropical rains.  Here is a good example at Mocagua Village on the banks of the Amazon River in Colombia.  Far removed from a simple cross-weave. Click to see big picture (800x535 pixels; 179 KB)
And on the Peru-Brazil border beside the Javary River, an example of how a couple of sticks and palm fronds can be fashioned into an instant backpack. Click to see big picture (850x652 pixels; 243 KB)
Attalea butyracea ranges from Nicaragua to Bolivia, and is known as the  American Oil Palm in English. Besides oil and wine, its fruit is important as food for both animals and humans.  There are several names, but here in eastern Ecuador it is known as Locata. Click to see big picture (800x684 pixels; 258 KB)
And the leaves of Attalea butyracea are used for some of the finer thatching requirements. Note how the leaves twist on their limb to face outward. Click to see big picture (800x759 pixels; 228 KB)
The thorny and unattractive Chambira Palm (Astrocaryum chambira) is a feature of the western Amazon basin. It has some use in thatching, but is mainly prized for strong fibers used as strings or chords. Photo from the Colombian Amazon. Click to see big picture (768x720 pixels; 284 KB)
Astrocaryum chambira also produces fruit whose interior is edible.  The palm furthermore has value in traditional medicine, and in some tribes was used as a source of salt. Click to see big picture (800x663 pixels; 171 KB)
The Urucuri Palm? (Attalea phalerata) is considered the most economically important in Bolivia. This is largely because of its oil, although the seeds are used to feed livestock, and the leaves for thatching. Here, near the Bolivia-Brazil border, it is known as Shapaja. Its native range is from Peru to southeastern Brazil, but it has been planted beyond.  Unfortunately, A. butyracea can also look a lot like this, and is also known as Shapaja in some areas. Click to see big picture (587x800 pixels; 251 KB)
Thorny but important, Bactris gasipaes is either native or cultivated throughout most of the Neotropics.  It is known as the Peach Palm in English, and locally goes by names such as Chontaduro.  The large fruit are cooked and eaten. Click to see big picture (720x586 pixels; 177 KB)
Bactris major may be found from the south of Mexico to Brazil and Bolivia. It goes by names such as Hiscoyol, and the fruit are edible. Click to see big picture (557x800 pixels; 225 KB)
A cluster of Bactris maraja fruit hang in a restaurant.  This palm is native from Costa Rica to the Amazon, and planted beyond.  It is known as Maraja in the Amazon, and as Cubarro elsewhere. Click to see big picture (558x640 pixels; 124 KB)
This is the Coyol Palm, Acrocomia aculeata, widespread in the Neotropics.  These fruit are called Grugru Nuts, with a hard covering and a vaguely sweet interior.  They are also used for making oil, and the sap for coyal wine. Click to see big picture (596x800 pixels; 204 KB)
Euterpe precatoria, the Acai Palm is native and/or planted throughout the Neotropics. It is one of the most common trees in the Amazon Basin, here at the Calanoa Reserve in Colombia. Click to see big picture (710x912 pixels; 316 KB)
The main reason for the popularity of the Acai Palm is that it produces copious edible fruit.  Click to see big picture (642x800 pixels; 233 KB)
But a cousin species, Euterpe oleracea is even more commonly called Acai, also as Palmero de Asai.  It inhabits swampy terrain in Brazil and Northern South America and its fruit is edible, but it is mainly grown in plantations as a source of Palm Heart, and is endangered in the wild. 
And here is the Acai Fruit of Euterpe oleracea at Summit Park in the Canal Zone of Panama, likely planted.
Mauritia flexuosa is known as the Palm with a Thousand Uses.  It is also known by about a thousand names, but Moriche is likely best known in the Amazon, except in Brazil where Buriti is favored. Click to see big picture (800x595 pixels; 207 KB)
Moriche Palms are large, and tend to live in wet areas, in this case on the banks of the Amazon River at Calanoa Lodge in Colombia.  They are a feature of tropical South America.  One of its gifts are fine, strong threads, known as Moriche Silk. Click to see big picture (600x800 pixels; 242 KB)
It is the fruit of Mauritia flexuosa which is especially prized. Not only are they eaten, but they yield Buriti Oil, of importance in the local economy and now used in cosmetics.  These fruit float, and this aids in the distribution of the species. Click to see big picture (713x800 pixels; 297 KB)
The Carana Palm, Mauritiella armata is a thorny, multi-stem species largely confined to the Amazon Basin.  It is often called Buriti because of the similarity of its fruit to those of the Mauritia genus.  The fruit are edible, after peeling off the skin. Click to see big picture (800x589 pixels; 153 KB)
Chamaedorea pinnatifrons is a widespread palm, ranging from southern Mexico to Bolivia, with names such as Jatatilla. Click to see big picture (535x800 pixels; 205 KB)
The floral display of Jatatilla is unusual, but fragrant. The resulting fruit is edible, and the seeds are used to make necklaces.  Lotusland, Montecito, California. Click to see big picture (800x684 pixels; 243 KB)
Chamaedorea angustisecta is found in the lowlands of Bolivia, Peru and western Brazil.  Photo from the botanical gardens near Sta. Cruz, Bolivia. Click to see big picture (699x650 pixels; 110 KB)
Geonoma cuneata is found in rainforests of low and moderate elevation from Nicaragua to Bolivia and beyond. It is one of the species known as Palmicha, and the genus is widely referred to as Suita Palms, apparently a thatching term. Photo from Nicaragua. Click to see big picture (640x463 pixels; 115 KB)
This is likely Geonoma macrostachys in eastern Ecuador, although there are many of this genus in the region. It is common in the Amazon Basin and northward to Panama. The leaves are used in thatching and the fruit is edible, although the palm heart in some indigenous societies is used in a ceremony to "kill witches". Click to see big picture (800x667 pixels; 204 KB)