Plant Profile: Butia capitata and Butia yatay - The Pindo Palms 


Butia yatay (the larger plant) makes an excellent
specimen for the garden or, when young, as a potted
plant for the patio. The smaller plant in the foreground is
the Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis). 



While the 'Pindo palm', BUTIA CAPITATA, is the best known Butia species in cultivation it really deserves to be even better known. The plain fact of the matter is that this is one of the most cold-hardy - and one of the most beautiful - of the feather palms. 

Whereas Phoenix canariensis struggles to survive at temperatures much below -5C, Butia capitata can withstand temperatures down to at least -10C and, possibly, lower still. 

Mature plants have a stout trunk topped by a thick crown of large, graceful, downward-curving leaves, each leaf measuring two metres or more in length. The leaves may be pure green, blue-green or silvery green in colour. A mature Butia capitata would be a dramatic addition to any exotic garden. 

The palms do take a few years to begin putting any growth into their trunk, however. During this time, they form large, elegant crowns of leaves just above ground level. You should aim to plant Butia capitata in well-drained soil in full sun. The species can tolerate clay or lime soil, though it is strongly recommended that you should 'improve' heavy soil by the addition of plenty of grit and organic matter such as compost, peat or coir fibre. 

In theory, another species, BUTIA YATAY, may grow somewhat taller (to 12 metres) than Butia capitata (to 7.5 metres) though it remains to be seen if these maximum sizes can be achieved in the UK. At present few people in Britain have tried growing the 'Yatay palm' in their gardens and it is, therefore, impossible to say quite how cold-hardy it is. 

At Rosedown Mill, we have grown a juvenile (still trunkless) Butia yatay outside for three years now with no artificial protection of any sort. It has shrugged off winter freezes and temperatures down to around -6C without the slightest sign of damage - not even a brown leaf tip! Indeed, the leaves of the plant have continued to grow even in the middle of winter. It seems likely that this plant is just as hardy as its close cousin, Butia capitata

In fact, Butia yatay looks very similar to Butia capitata and it is not always easy to distinguish the two species. Just to add to the confusion, Butias frequently hybridise with one another and also with the genus Syagrus. Moreover, there is frequently much variation in the appearance of individual plants within a single Butia species. The leaf colour may vary through several shades of green and the trunks may be thick or thin, rough or smooth. One common area of confusion is the relative 'roughness' of the trunks of individual plants. It is tempting to deduce that a Butia with a rough trunk must be a different species from a Butia with a smooth trunk. But this is not necessarily the case. It turns out that the trunks of some individuals from both Butia capitata and yatay may be covered with the rough stumps of leaf bases, giving the plant a notched or 'carved' look. Then again, the trunks of other individuals from the same species may be quite smooth. Often younger plants retain the rough leaf-bases whereas older plants lose them. 

In theory, Butia yatay likes sandy, well-drained soil. In practice, it seems perfectly happy stuck in Devonshire clay and the eternal winter rains of North Devon winters. 

If you are really looking for an exotic, cold tolerant palm, look no further!

This article originally appeared in the Rosedown Mill Subtropical Gardening newsletter.
This article © Copyright 2000 Rosedown Mill Ltd.

Information and photos on this page are
courtesy and copyright Huw Collingbourne
Rosedown Mill Palms & Exotics

PACSOF Home Page

VPE Home Page

VPE Table of Contents

VPE Photo gallery

Virtual Palm Encyclopedia Site Map
Powered by FreeFind.

This site is copyrighted 1998-2006, Palm & Cycad Societies of Florida, Inc.
For questions or comments, e-mail the webmaster.
Internet hosting provided by Zone 10, Inc.