Arroyo Quad Series: Belen Palms


Deborah Strelkow | Contributing Writer

The landscape improvements at Belen Jesuit include a number of palm species from around the world, with a special selection of rare species from Cuba, which highlight the historical origin of the school. Among these, there are several species that are threatened or critically endangered in their native habitats.

When you look at palms there are several characteristics that can help you identify the species. These are the leaf structure, the trunk structure, the place where the leaves meet the trunk, and the flower/fruit structures. Palm leaves come in two general forms: palmate (like the palm of your hand), and pinnate (like a feather).

Licuala grandis is a palmate palm
Licuala grandis is a palmate palm

Satakentia liukiuensis is a pinnate palm
Satakentia liukiuensis is a pinnate palm

Now, look at the trunk structure. Some palms have a smooth trunk; others have distinctive characteristics, like rings, or thatching, where the old fronds leave something behind when they fall. Coccothrinax miraguama has thatch on the trunk. These characteristics help to identify the species.

Coccothrinax miraguama has distinctive thatching
Coccothrinax miraguama has distinctive thatching
Coccothrinax crinita, Old Man Palm, has hairy thatching
Coccothrinax crinita has unique hairy thatching
Bottle palms have a unique bulbous trunk.
Hyphorbe lagenicaulis has a bulbous trunk.
Aiphanes has spines on the trunk
Aiphanes has spines on the trunk

Let’s examine the place where the leaves meet the trunk. Some plans have a crown shaft, formed by a smooth leaf-base that clings to the trunk, while others do not. In the photos below, you can see that Cabadae and Red Sealing Wax palms have a smooth crown shaft between the leaves and the trunk. The Coccothrinax do not. These features add visual interest to the garden design.

Cabadae plam has distinctive rings on the trunk.
Dypsis Cabadae plam has distinctive rings on the trunk.
Red Sealing Wax palm has a red crown shaft and clear rings on the trunk
Red Sealing Wax palm has a red crown shaft and clear rings on the trunk

Flowers vary in size, color, and structure. Some of these hang down, while others are up-right. The fruit can be large (e.g. Coconut palms) or small (e.g. Thatch palms). Colors vary also. Fruits can be bright red, turquoise, black, white, or brown. They can be round, oval, or asymmetrical. All these characteristics are used by botanists to classify palms into botanical groups called Genus and species.

The coconut plam (cocos nucifera) has very large, edble seeds which are a food staple in many places world-wide.
The coconut plam (cocos nucifera) has very large, edble seeds which are a food staple in many places world-wide.
Copernicia hospita has flower/fruit structures interspersed within its leaves
Copernicia hospita has flower/fruit structures interspersed within its leaves
Syagrus amara has a shapthe that covers the flowers
Syagrus amara has a shapthe that covers the flowers

More about Palms

Palms are monocotyledons, meaning they sprout with one seed leaf, as do all the grasses, grains, bamboos, orchids, and bromeliads. They are classified in the family Arecaceae and there are over 2500 species of palms. They are mostly found in tropical and sub-tropical climates; however, there are a few that grow on the coasts of temperate regions of the world, where temperatures are moderated by proximity to the sea. They can be found in rainforests and deserts, and from the seashore to high altitudes in the mountains.

Date Palms have been cultivated for their fruit in the Middle East since the beginning of civilization. Other palms that are used as food sources include Coconut Palms, Sugar Palms, and Oil palms. Many species provide valuable materials for construction, furniture, household use, clothing, weapons (Amazon warriors use them for arrows and darts), and other man-made instruments. The traditional Florida Chickee hut used for housing by the Miccosukee Indians is thatched with fronds of the native Sabal palm.

Many species of palms are valued for their beauty and are priced as ornamentals, i.e. planted to enhance a landscape or garden. Some of the common palms seen in South Florida landscapes are native to the state, such as Sabals, Paurotis, Thatch, and Royal palms. Others are called “exotic”, meaning they are not originally from our state.

For more information about building a garden for your estate in South Florida, please contact Peter Strelkow, principal at HS2G.