The Langlois' Legacy in Palms

Arthur Langlois with Pyrenoglyphis cruegeriana in Trinidad, 1936  

by Janet Mosely

[The following is an updated and expanded version of "The Langlois' Legacy in Palms"  which appeared in The Tropical Garden (FTBG), Spring 2008.]

Arthur and Margaret Langlois, of Nassau, Bahamas, began collecting palms as a hobby in the late 1920's after purchasing The Retreat, an eleven acre estate in New Providence, Nassau. What began as a hobby developed into a well-respected life's work of studying, photographing, collecting and growing often very rare palms. They continued on despite hurricanes and droughts, World War and the lure of selling off to developers. The Retreat, now a part of the Bahamas National Trust, is considered one of the best known private palm collections in the world.

Dr. David Fairchild held the Langlois in high esteem as is evidenced by his inscription in their copy of Garden Islands of the Great East: 

Margaret Langlois in Costa Rica with Synechanthus angustifolius, 1945.

"To the Langlois-both of them. The most passionate lovers of palms it has ever been my lot to meet. May some of those from this cruise which are growing in their "Retreat" furnish seeds for other gardens on this side of the world. Sincerely David Fairchild, October 16, 1943." 

They were the only private collectors to whom Dr. Fairchild entrusted seeds and plantings from the Cheng Ho expedition.

The Langlois took several expeditions of their own to study and photograph palms—British Honduras (now Belize), Costa Rica, Trinidad, Panama, Jamaica, Madagascar, and the South Pacific. At this time likenesses of palms were hard to come by. So they set about collecting photographs themselves as well as from an impressive array of friends and acquaintances, among them Dr. Fairchild, palm botanist Harold E. Moore, and Dent Smith, founder of the International Palm Society. The Langlois were also charter members of the Palm Society and Margaret sat on the Board.

The Retreat, Nassau. The palm is a Roystonea regia. 1940.

Some of the photos collected by the Langlois were used by James McCurrach in his 1959 Palms of the World. Others went into Langlois' own volume, well-known among palm enthusiasts, Supplement to the Palms of the World which was published at the time of his death in 1977.

Langlois' photographs are housed in the Fairchild archives along with drawings and the working notes that he kept on all known palm genera. They represent decades of study and the pursuit of images of little known palms. Margaret donated them to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in a letter dated 22 May 1980: 

 "…as a palm lover he considered you as one of his best friends and wanted you to have–if you considered it of any value--the results of a part of his life's work—the accumulation of information and photographs of his much loved plant-the palm…Now the thousands of pictures, not used in his book, will be available for reference." (FTBG Archive. Arthur C. Langlois collection)

A page from Langois' working notes on Ponapea.

Recently Langlois' wish has been fulfilled. One of the genera he kept notes on is Ponapea which is endemic to Micronesia. The genus Ponapea was transferred to Ptychosperma by Moore in 1956.  Langlois wrote in 1961 that he believed them to be distinct due to his observations on differences in habitat preferences and fruit size. However, there was little enough known at the time to make a definite decision. "As far as I can ascertain these palms have never been photographed…" (FTBG Archive. Arthur C. Langlois Collection). The only known diagnostic herbarium specimens were destroyed at the Berlin Herbarium during World War II. 

Soon there will be photographs collected on the Ponapea palms and Langlois' own notes will have helped increase the extant body of knowledge we have on them at this time. (See below-Palm Conservation at Work.)

Palm Conservation at Work

Recently, Dr. Carl Lewis, Fairchild palm researcher, was able to obtain rare DNA samples from all three species of the genus of Ponapea and verify Langlois' opinion that Ponapea is a separate genus from Ptychosperma.  Subsequently, a collecting expedition to Micronesia, specifically the islands of Palau and Pohnpei (Ponape), is planned for this fall.  This area has been identified as part of the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot by Conservation International. Funded by the Latham Expedition Fund and Fairchild trustee Faith Bishock, Dr. Lynn Leverett and Ms. Lane Park, and the Weeks Conservation Fund, it will be led by Dr. Lewis and Christie Jones, Fairchild Curator of Palms and Cycads, in collaboration with the National Tropical Botanic Garden and The Nature Conservancy.  Their main goal is to assess Ponapea's conservation status which may be under severe threat.  A second goal is to find and collect seeds, herbarium specimens and DNA samples from the three species in question to support future horticultural and botanical research.  The collected images and information will be shared through Fairchild's website at as well as with school children through daily web blogs.  And, of course, there will be photographs.

Arthur with specimen of an immature pistillate - Chamaedorea geonomaeformis in British Honduras (now Belize). 1941.

In reading through the Langlois' papers one is left with the sense of a talented, resourceful couple who wholeheartedly threw themselves into a life-long fascination with the palm. At times they questioned this devotion and the sacrifices it entailed. Yet, with a wonderful sense of humor, they kept on and lead long and fulfilling lives among their beloved palms. And they have left a valuable double legacy—the collection at The Retreat and a body of work that is still relevant today.

Arthur with leaf section of Iriartea gigantea in Sarapiqui Valley, Costa Rica. March 1945.

A list of the palm genera in the archive's Arthur C. Langlois Collection can be found on our website at on the Archive Page.

Unless otherwise stated, all photographs on this page property of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Please contact the Archivist for permission to use or reproduce photographs.

Please contact:
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden Center for Tropical Plant Conservation
11935 Old Cutler Road
Miami, Florida 33156 USA
tel. 305/667-1651, ext. 3424
fax 305/665-8032