Plant Particulars – March 2013

The Conservatory has always held interesting palms, some specimens growing since the Conservatory opened ten years ago. Growing palms in a glass house has its own set of challenges; the biggest being space. Palms have one growing point, and it is located at the top of the trunk. Because of this, it is not possible to prune a palm back to reduce its height. Removing the top of the plant means removing the growing point and essentially killing the plant. Consequently, when a palm gets too tall for the Conservatory it has to be removed and replaced. After ten years, several palms have outgrown their space and horticulture staff have replaced those plants with some new exciting species.

Several of the new palm additions are native to the Caribbean. One such palm is the wine palm (Pseudophoenix vinifera). This native to the Haiti and the Dominican Republic has long feather shaped leaves and broad, thick trunks. The sweet sap from the species is sometimes fermented into wine giving it its common name. Another Caribbean native is the Borhidis guano palm (Coccothrinax borhidiana), a rare and endangered palm. It has fan shaped leaves on very short petioles (stems) arranged along a thin trunk. Native to beaches of northern Cuba, habitat loss is one reason this palm is endangered. Also native to the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, the zombie palm (Zombia antillarum) is a distinctive and fun addition the Conservatory. This short fan palm is noted for its spiny leaf sheaths that cover the trunk giving the appearance of the trunk being covered in thorns. This small, low maintenance, clump forming palm should be a long-lived and a discussion-worthy addition to the Conservatory.

Another addition to the Conservatory is the bottle palm (Hyophorbe lagenicaulis). It is characterized by its stout bulbous, bottle-shaped trunk. Bottle palms are native to Round Island, a tiny island east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. They may be fewer than 15 specimens left in its native habitat, but the bottle palm is ubiquitous around the world as a landscape plant because of its unique trunk silhouette.

Finally, a new palm has been introduced to the Conservatory where the beloved Bismarck palm once stood. Positioned in the Conservatory at the end of the Events Hall, the Bismarck palm (Bismarckia nobilis) outgrew its space and had to be removed. It has been replaced with the blue lantan palm (Latania loddigesii). In many ways this palm is a miniature version of the Bismarck. It has large, blue fan shaped leaves but grows slowly to a mature height of about 25 feet. Like the bottle palm, this palm is also native to Round Island and Mauritius located east of Madagascar, and it is threatened in its native habitat because of habitat destruction.

With all these new palms added to the Conservatory, a visit on Palm Sunday might be the perfect idea and excuse to visit the Gardens this spring!

Prepared by Aaron Steil, Manager of Public Programs