DixPix Photographs

     

TROPICAL MESOAMERICA

 
     
  Flora:  PALMS  

 

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 website of the International Palm Society is at www.palms.org.

 

Technically, the Coconut is a drupe rather than a nut.  In a family where most species produce small berries, this really stands out, and Cocos nucifera is the only member of its genus.  It supplies food, drink, oil, charcoal, thatch and even a fabric, and is now grown in over 80 countries. Click to see big picture (640x451 pixels; 150 KB)
The Coconut Palm has adapted to sandy and saline conditions, and needs only a warm, wet climate.  It hence adorns beaches throughout the tropics, here in Papua New Guinea. Click to see big picture (483x480 pixels; 79 KB)
And, of course, it lines the both coasts of Central America, this being the Guanacaste sector of Costa Rica.  Here the nut is called Cocos, and the tree Cocotero in theory, but Palma de Coco is more commonly heard. Click to see big picture (640x461 pixels; 85 KB)
Coconut flowers seldom draw attention, but here is how they unfold. Click to see big picture (640x476 pixels; 134 KB)
Most tall palms are flexible enough to just sway in strong winds, but they can break, as here on the edge of stormy Lake Nicaragua. Click to see big picture (640x314 pixels; 81 KB)
The American Oil Palm (Attalea Butyracea) has a natural range of Mexico to Bolivia, but has been planted more widely.  Under names such as Palma Real and Corozo, it is used for thatching, food, oil and fodder.  Photo from the Darien of Panama.
The Stilt Palm, Socratea exorrhiza is known as the Walking Palm or Palma que Camina, although its actually ability to move is controversial.  The stilts have stubby thorns and make a good back-scratcher.  It may be found in the lowlands from Nicaragua to Bolivia. Click to see big picture (555x480 pixels; 136 KB)
Several other species of palm tend to show their roots, or develop basal air-roots.  This appears to be the Surtuba Palm, Geonoma interrupta, which occurs scatted through the Neotropics and is known as the Reina del Agua (water queen). Click to see big picture (301x480 pixels; 91 KB)
This is likely Geonoma cuneata, in southeastern Nicaragua.  The pits in the rachis are typical of that genus.  This palm is a member of rain forests from here south to Ecuador, and is one of the species known as Suita (a thatching term), and in Columbia as Palmicha. Click to see big picture (640x463 pixels; 120 KB)
Another palm known as Suita is Geonoma congesta, which ranges from Honduras to Columbia.  It is a lowland species, and this appears to be it, along the Rio Sarapaqui in eastern Costa Rica.  Click to see big picture (373x480 pixels; 77 KB)
A more mature specimen of Geonoma congesta shows that the inflorescence is indeed congested.  Here it is in flower, and the trunk, which takes on a brown 'bamboo style'.  A local name is Caña del Danta, which translates as 'Tapir Cane'.  Click to see big picture (640x445 pixels; 107 KB)
From the San Blas Mountains of Panama, the pitted fruiting stems and fish-tail leaves suggest that this is also a Geonoma, but no guarantees. Click to see big picture (640x363 pixels; 121 KB)
Turning now to the spiny Bactris genus.  Usually these large, banded palms are classed as the widespread B. gasipaes, but here in western Columbia this looks more like Bactris setulosa.  Locally known as Jingapa, it is native from Venezuela to Ecuador.  The Astrocaryum genus can also have banded trunks. Click to see big picture (326x480 pixels; 82 KB)
But here is the real Bactris gasipaes in Panama.  Known in English as the Peach Palm and in Spanish as Pejibaye or as Chontadura.  This is a neotropical speces, widely cultivated for its fruit.
Of lesser stature, Bactris hondurensis is a common understory item in lowland forests form Honduras to Ecuador.  It is widely known as Biscoyol. Click to see big picture (640x365 pixels; 104 KB)
Bactris major is important for its edible fruit, which will turn dark purple on maturity.  These are eaten or used to flavor drinks.  It prefers wet footing and is found through much of the Neotropics, under the name of Huiscoyol.  There are four varieties recognized. Click to see big picture (334x480 pixels; 102 KB)
Hanging in a restaurant, the edible fruit of Bactris maraja.  This is native from Costa Rica to Peru, but has been planted more widely. Click to see big picture (416x480 pixels; 85 KB)
From the highlands of Colombia, a very thorny palm with rings (and epiphytic bromeliads), but with truncated leaves which are not typical of the Bactris genus.  With black thorns, this must be Aiphanes duquei of Colombia's Cordillera Occidental. Click to see big picture (640x468 pixels; 146 KB)
Aiphanes horrida, alias A. aculeata is native to the Andes from Venezuela to Bolivia, but has been widely planted, both for ornamental reasons and for its fruit.  Ruffle Palm and Coyure Palm are two of its better known names in English.  Those thorns give it a local name of Macahuitl, an obsidian-studded sword of the Aztecs. Click to see big picture (360x480 pixels; 102 KB)
The fruit of Aiphanes horrida is rich in carotene.  They are widely enjoyed and the seeds used to make candy.  Here in Colombia, the tree is known as Mararay.  A more general name for these thorny palms is Corozo. Click to see big picture (495x480 pixels; 86 KB)
The California Fan Palm is native to southwestern U.S. and adjacent Mexico, but it has been planted widely.  Washingtonia filifera does not drop its old leaves, so its appearance depends on how much it is trimmed as it grows.  Unkempt examples lead to the alternative name of Petticoat Palm.
Mexican Palmetto (Sabal mexicana) also has a fan-like foliage.  It is found mainly in southern Mexico, here near Huatulco, where it goes by names such as Palmito Mexicana and Apachita.
Fan Palms tend to be called Palma de Escoba (broom) in Latin America. With a whitish underleaf, this would be Cryosophila warscewiczii, which ranges from here in southeast Nicaragua to Panama.  The leaves lend it the name of Silver Star Palm. Click to see big picture (640x472 pixels; 130 KB)
And here are the off-white fruit of Cryosophila warscewicziiC. guagara is very similar (and easier to pronounce), but it is mainly found in the Pacific Lowlands. Click to see big picture (640x391 pixels; 119 KB)
The thorns on the lower part of Cryosophila species are impressive, and in the good old days were coated with poison and used for darts.  The lowest ones, however, tend to turn into roots, giving these trees yet another name of Rootspine Palms. Click to see big picture (340x480 pixels; 89 KB)
In Panama and Colombia, however, Palma de Escoba is most likely to refer to Cryosophila kalbreyeri.  Here in the San Blas Range of Panama, it is also known as Nupa, but in Colombia it has taken on the more substantial name of Barbasco. Click to see big picture (587x480 pixels; 141 KB)
Also from the San Blas region, I am told that this is the fruit of Pholidostachys dactyloides, known as Rabo de Gallo.  If so, it is at the north end of its range, which extends south to Ecuador. Click to see big picture (227x480 pixels; 78 KB)
Instead of 'rabo" (tail) this is known as the Pata (foot) de Gallo (rooster), and the splayed inflorescence shows why.  Asterogyne martiana is an understory palm from Honduras to Colombia. Click to see big picture (640x465 pixels; 132 KB)
We have seen a Biscoyol and a Huiscoyol, but this is the fruit of the actual Coyol Palm, meet Acrocomia aculeata, widespread in the Neotropics.  These 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 (387x480 pixels; 99 KB)
Reinhardtia gracilis is one of the Window Palms, which are small and colorful enough to grow in your house.  With a native range of south Mexico to Panama, it is at home here in Nicaragua. Reinhardtia koschnyana occurs in the same area and looks virtually identical, except for lacking windows at the base of the leaves. Click to see big picture (640x435 pixels; 104 KB)
Calyptrogyne ghiesbreghtiana is a good example of why people with unpronounceable  names should be discouraged from botany.  This is another palm known for a rooster tail, in this case in the form of Colagallo.  It is said to be bat pollinated in its range from southern Mexico to Colombia, here caught in eastern Costa Rica. Click to see big picture (640x451 pixels; 114 KB)
Welfia regia has developed the clever ruse of tinting its young leaves red.  That is usually a warning of poison, but in this case is used to protect the young leaves until they develop their own defences.  Honduras to Ecuador. Click to see big picture (360x480 pixels; 96 KB)
The seeds of Raphia taedigera are typical of the Raffia Palms.  In its range from Nicaragua to Colombia it has attracted names such as Yolillo and Matomba. Click to see big picture (640x480 pixels; 116 KB)
Graceful and rare, Ceroxylon quindiuense is not only the tallest palm, it is the tallest of any Monocotyledon, and the national tree of Colombia.  Native to only a small area of that country, it would be endangered if not now protected. Click to see big picture (608x480 pixels; 86 KB)
Ceroxylon quindiuense  is known as Palma de Cera, the Wax Palm, and in bygone days a wax was scraped from its trunk for candles.  Some grow to be 60 meters tall. Click to see big picture (294x480 pixels; 71 KB)
In fact, the entire Ceroxylon genus are Wax Palms, this pair on Cerro Kennedy of the Santa Marta Mountians in northeastern Colombia being C. Vogelianum.
Ceroxylon Vogelianum is betimes known as Vogel's Wax Palm, and Cerro Kennedy goes by the more dire name of Cuchillo de San Lorenzo. The species ranges from western Venezuela to Peru.
Ceroxylon echinulatum is a wax palm that seems endemic to moderate elevations in Ecuador, and is here rooted at the Botanical Gardens of Quito.
Ceroxylon ventricosum, again at Quito. This species grows in the mountains of both Ecuador and Colombia.
Ceroxylon alpinum is a more branching form of Wax Palm, which is likely why it is known as the Palma de Ramo in the mountains of Colombia and Ecuador. Bogota Botanical Gardens.
Chamaedorea tepejilote is known as the Tepejilote Palm, and may be found from southern Mexico to Colombia.  The fruit will turn black on maturity, and the trunk is green and bamboo-like. Click to see big picture (582x480 pixels; 154 KB)
Palms such as the tepejilote (and there are several species) are locally called Pacaya de Danta.  'Pacaya' is a general term for palms or palm like shrubs, and 'danta' is a tapir. Click to see big picture (581x480 pixels; 127 KB)
Chamaedorea metallica originated in southern Mexico, but is more commonly encountered in gardens now, in this case the Matthaei Gardens.  It is said to have a metallic blue sheen on the leaves, but this needs some imagination. Click to see big picture (640x395 pixels; 96 KB)
A closer look at the Metallic Palm, at the same location.  It is basically a small, fish-tail palm.
Chamaedorea pinnatifrons is a palm of the neotropical Andes, from Mexico to Bolivia.  It answers to several names, Jatatilla being one.  Within its genus it is unusual in having fishtail leaves. Click to see big picture (640x383 pixels; 131 KB)
The fruit of Jatatilla is round and a striking orange, but will turn black on maturity. Click to see big picture (586x480 pixels; 119 KB)
Chamaedorea costaricana is mainly reported from Central America, although here planted at Lotusland in California.  It is known as the Costa Rican Bamboo Palm.
Chamaedorea radicalis is known as the Radicalis Palm, and is native to eastern Mexico.  Lotusland, Montecito, Calif.
Chamaedorea elegans is known as a Parlour Palm, or in its native Guatemala and southern Mexico as a Palma de Salon.  All of which points to its use for decoration, in this case at Lotusland in California.  For some reason it is also referred to as the Neanthe Bella Palm.
I am calling this one Chamaedorea deckeriana, of Costa Rica and Panama. C. allenii looks quite similar. Click to see big picture (625x480 pixels; 139 KB)
As a native of the mountains of eastern Mexico, Chamaedorea microspadix can take moderate frost, and is known as the Hardy Bamboo Palm.  Here at Lotusland, Montecito, California.
A closer view of the fruit of the Hardy Bamboo Palm, clearly another reason for its popularity.
Another bamboo palm, the Maquenque or Trupa Palm at Summit Park in Panama.  The fruit of Oenocarpus mapora yield drinks and wine and the seeds give fine oil.  It ranges from Costa Rica to Bolivia.
An unusual palm flower from a green-bamboo style of palm in a cloud forest of northern Nicaragua. Click to see big picture (254x480 pixels; 63 KB)
From the same area, a lime-on-red palm inflorescence.  Unidentified. Click to see big picture (578x480 pixels; 156 KB)
Another unidentified palm, this one in the City of Managua, so it may not be local. Click to see big picture (640x413 pixels; 132 KB)
Species of this style tend to be called Rastafarian Palms, in view of the similarity to the dreadlocks of Jamaican adherents of that religion.  This turns out to be Welfia regia again, after the seeds have been dropped. Click to see big picture (427x480 pixels; 93 KB)
At Lotusland in California, we find Brahea calcarea, which is native from Guatemala to northwestern Mexico.
A closer view of Brahea calcarea, emphasizing the huge inflorescence structures.
Parajubaea cocides is known as the Quito (or Mountain) Coconut Palm, and is here indeed in Quito, at the Botanical Gardens. It is endemic to the mountains of Ecuador.
Royal Palms (Roystonea regia) range from the southern U.S. and the Caribbean to Colombia.  Palma Botella is one of its more common names.  This one is planted at Brisas Huatulco in southern Mexico.
Although it is known as the Travellers Palm, it is not really a palm, but Ravenala madagascariensis has travelled from its Madagascar origins to tropical gardens.  Here is a great example at the Gamboa Rainforest Lodge in Panama.  Strelitziaceae family.