Handsome Haitian palms are priceless

Thursday, May 6, 2010


One of the handsomest sights in the palmetum is the collection of Haitian palms, Attalea crassispatha. The group was planted from seeds collected on a 1991 joint expedition by Fairchild and New York Botanical Garden. Only about two dozen palms remain in the wild, making it one of the rarest palms in this hemisphere.  Carl Lewis said the palms in the grove have not yet produced fruit, but there is an Attalea crassispatha in another area of the garden that has borne fruit.  He reports that five years ago a colleague said the trees remaining in Haiti were “in a continual state of decline.”  That was before the disastrous hurricane season of 2008 and the earthquake of 2010.

Attalea crassispatha was first described in the 18th Century by the French botanist Charles Plumier (for whom Plumeria is named). It grows in southwestern Haiti. The palm has seeds that resemble little coconuts, and in some places in Haiti it is called, in Creole, ‘ti koko’, the small coconut, according to a paper by Joel Timyan and Sam Reep.  The meat of the nut is richer in fats than a regular coconut and is utilized for cooking oil. It has more protein than coconuts, and twice the calories.

Conservation of this valuable palm is, therefore, of great importance. Plus, it is a beautiful landscape plant. The garden’s grove is twice blessed.