Tree Report from Medellin, Colombia

Written by the 4th Grade Students of Colegio Montessori 

Common Name of Tree: Wax Palm 

Botanical Name of Tree: Ceroxylon quindiuense


This is a young Wax Palm in 
Juliana's garden.  It has not grown 
a trunk yet. 
General information

Wax Palm growing
This is the wax palm growing
in the environment it likes - 
namely, the cloud forest. 

We have chosen the Palma de Cera, also known as Wax Palm, as the tree for our project. 

Our school is on the outskirts of Medellin, in a beautiful country setting. Medellin is Colombia's second largest city and is the capital of Antioquia, one of the most populated departments.
Medellin lies cradled high up in the Andes in an oval-shaped bowl at an altitude of 1550-1800 m above sea level.

Our average temperature is 24 C and this has contributed to its being called "The City of Eternal Spring". There are about 3 million people living here, many of them high up the slopes of the mountains that surround the center of the city. 

There are more than 3000 species of palms. Most of them grow in the tropics. They like the hot climate. However, some, like the Wax Palm, grow at higher altitudes, where the temperature is much cooler. 

The Wax Palm is the tallest palm tree in the world and can reach a height of up to 70 m. It has several unequaled characteristics. 

 
Wax Palm in the sunset
Wax palm in the evening. 

This tree prefers secluded areas, far from people and animals. Exclusive to the Andes of Colombia, it grows mainly in the central mountain range of the Departamentos del Quindio, Tolima, and Valle de Cauca. The Valle de Cocora is known as the Cradle of the Wax Palm. This area has become a great tourist attraction.

The Wax Palm thrives best in the Cloud Forest, at an altitude of 3150-4000 m. There it grows above the canopy. At a lower altitude (1500 m and up) it is smaller in circumference and does not attain the same height. 

Seasonal Changes 

The Wax Palm is a tropical evergreen and looks the same all year round, except for new growth, flowers, and fruit. 

Below the branches the fruit grows in large clusters of bright red berries that create a perfect sphere (see illustration). These clusters are also evenly distributed around the trunk, giving the tree perfect balance at the top. The berries all ripen at the same time and very gradually. Fruit is produced every two years. 

Wax Palm flowers
Wax Palm Fruit 

Appearance

Bark
Wax Palm Bark 

This tree reaches heights of 60-70 m. The diameter of the trunk is relatively small, 50-60 cm at its base, narrowing to about 10cm at the top. Alternating rings of white and grey decorate the perfectly cylindrical trunk (see illustration). 

A very thin coating of wax covers it and forms a protection against many enemies. The trunk is fibrous on the inside because the roots climb up inside it to the crest of the palm with the dense rods perfectly compacted within its walls. 

For a tree of this height the roots are very surprising. What supports the National symbol and other species of Wax Palm is a small fibrous bulb with a width of 2 m maximum which does not extend any deeper than 1.5 m.

Wax Palm leaf nodes
Wax Palm branches 

At the top of the unbranched trunk is a crown of leaves. A peculiar characteristic of the foliage of this palm is the perfection of the distribution of its branches. Without fail, five branches appear at the same time at the perimeter of the trunk with a distance of 72 degrees from each other, making a perfect 360 degree circumference. 

The leaves are dark green on top and have a thick, whitish covering of a fleecy texture on the underside. 


This is a young WaxPalm in 
Juliana's garden. 
It has not grown a trunk yet. 

Seeds and Propagation 

The seeds are scattered by birds and mammals. 

Lately, man has become aware of the danger of extinction and some are trying to propagate the seeds. However, this is a very slow process. It takes 1-1/2 years for the seeds to sprout and 15 years before the young tree starts to develop a trunk. Obviously, the tree is most vulnerable during this time. 

The flowers of the Wax Palm are rather unimpressive. They are small and greenish in colour. 

Life in this tree

Many tropical birds, especially Blackbirds, Toucans, and Parrots, take the risk of this high altitude to devour the delicious and nutritious fruit of this tree. It is also prized by the Spectacled Bear, a tree-climbing variety, and by cattle, pigs, and other mammals, who like the young plants as well. This presents a problem and is one reason why the tree is becoming rare. 

However, the most dangerous enemy of the Wax Palm has been the human who, for many years, cut the young trees for their branches (see uses). 

Young Palms

Many epiphytes use the trunk for support. All varieties of orchids plus different types of lichens can be found at different levels along its great height.

Uses of this tree

The Palma de Cera (Wax Palm) was declared the National Tree of Colombia in 1985 and at the same time a law was passed that does not allow the cutting down of this tree. 

This same law also allowed the government to acquire the terrain in the Central Mountain Range of the Andes to create national parks for the protection of the tree and its environment. These parks have become a great tourist attraction.

Religious Ceremonies

Holy week
Holy Week - by Omar

In the past the branches of the tree were used in religious ceremonies of Holy Week (Semana Santa). On Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, observed by Christians in remembrance of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, palm branches were waved in joy and adoration. This custom continued each year until it was prohibited by the Catholic Church to cut down the Wax Palm in accordance with the law passed in 1985 by the government.

Conduit for water

The trunk of the Wax Palm has been used as a conduit for water. Being so straight and of great length, it made an ideal pipeline.

Fence Posts

It was also used for fence posts and for building bridges.

Torches

The wood was used by the natives for torches. It was excellent for this purpose because of the wax covering.

Excursion
Excursion to see Wax Palms growing.
Field Trip

Candles and soap

Later, the wax was scraped from the trunk and processed into candles and made into soap. There is some interest in reviving the old skills of making soap and candles for the tourist trade.
Scraping the wax from the trunk does not harm the tree in any way.

Medicines 

At the present time the wax is used in medicines, and as essential oil. 

Art 

The tree has been used extensively as a subject in art. This is probably because of its stately beauty and its uniqueness to Colombia. 

History and Mythology 

Alexander von Humboldt
Alejandro de Humboldt

The tree got its name in 1801, when two German botanists Alexander von Humboldt and Aime Bompland, came to this continent to study its trees and birds in detail.

In the graphic descriptions of their records can be found a tree that they named Ceroxylon alpinum

They chose this name because the height of the mountains where it grows reminded them of the European Alps and because of the wax (cera) that could be retrieved from the trunk. 

Later, in 1860, Herman Karsten made a distinction between two species of this tree and named the second Ceroxylon quindiuense. They are known for their long life but have become endangered and are close to extinction. 


This is part of a poster 
to attract tourists to Quindio. It shows some of the customs and colours of the area and, of course, the Wax Palms.

JOKES ABOUT THE WAX PALM

Why is the Wax Palm so tall?
Because it wants to see if it can see snow anywhere.
by Maria Camila and Alejandra 

Why does the Wax Palm have so many rings?
Because it has been married many times.
by Alejandro and Tomas 

Why does the Wax Palm like being so tall?
Because it plays basketball. 

Daniela was standing under the Wax Palm with her
friends, Camila and Mariana. Who got wet?
Noone. It wasn't raining.
by Daniela 

Why does the Wax Palm have the leaves up so high?
Because if they were at its middle it would look like it was wearing a skirt.
by Juan Pablo 

The contact person for this report is Shirley Mulder

Note: This article was originally published on the website of the Elanora Heights school in Australia and is reprinted here with permission from the authors and their teacher.

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