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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).

Copernicia baileyana is Palmate
E.G. Palmate palm: Copernicia baileyana

Syagrus amara is pinnate
E.G. Pinnate palm: Syagrus amara

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
Coccothrinax miraguama has fabulous thatching on its trunck

Coccothrinax crinita/"Old Man Palm"
Coccothrinax crinita, aka "Old Man Palm" has a shaggy beard

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. 

Satakentia liukiuensis
Satakentia liukiuensis has a beautiful crown shaft.

Finally, we will look at the flower/fruit structures.

Areca vestiaria in fruit
Areca vestiaria in fruit. Photo by: Scott Zona

How many of these species can you identify on campus? Send us a list with a photo with the name of the palms you can find to (Note: not all the plants are on the list below!) The student with the most names will get a free palm!  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. 

To read more you may also visit the Belen Jesuit School article

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