The Palms of Argentina
By Gaston Torres Vera
IPS Member in Cordoba, Argentina

Several species of palms are native to Argentina, including some that are very interesting and unknown in cultivation. The purpose of this article is to list the native Argentine palms and provide a brief description of each.

Palms known to be in Argentina

Acrocomia chunta occurs in northwestern Argentina along the margins of a large forest near the Bolivian border. This palm is called “chonta” by the locals. It is rarely grown in cultivation, but is easily found in habitat, along with Bactris spp. These palms are grown in cities and public and private parks in parts of Argentina. Fruits are green to yellow, and seeds germinate easily when fresh.

Acrocomia totai is common in the northeast, where it grows in forests near large rivers, such as the Paraná River near the Paraguay border. The population in this area represents the southern limit of the species. Some specimens bear numerous large, black spines on the trunk, petioles, and leaves. This Acrocomia looks like Syagrus romanzoffiana but with a shorter canopy and a more tropical look. It tolerates cold, and has large fruit that are green to yellow or orange, the pulp of which is edible when mature. The seeds are round, black, and hard, and germinate readily when fresh. It is commonly called “mbocayá” by the Guaraníes Indians in Paraguay, and “corozo” or “coco” in Brazil. In some areas, A. totai grows intermixed with Syagrus romanzoffiana, Butia spp., Allagoptera spp., and other palms listed in this article.

Allagoptera campestris is a very small palm that grows intermingled in tall grass, with which it is commonly confused (or completely overlooked). This species grows in open, exposed areas of northeastern Argentina. It prefers sandy and triturated, stony soils, full sun, and cannot tolerate frost. In some areas, A. campestris grows mixed with Acrocomia totai and other species in this article. Fruits are typical of all Allagoptera spp., occurring in a “vaina,” and are not edible;  seeds are small  and  germinate easily when fresh. The short, subterranean trunk is sometimes branched. The leaves are similar to S. romanzoffiana, except that they are grey below and are held spread out on the ground. This palm grows marginally in Argentina and is highly endangered in this country. Allagoptera leucocalyx is also a marginal species in Argentina.

Butia paraguayensis is a small palm that grows in sandy soils or pure sand, near large rivers in the hills of northeastern Argentina, where it can occur in populations of thousands. People rarely notice this palm because of its small size. It is similar to Butia yatay but only grows to the size of the grass in which it lives. Leaves are long and grey and are held spread out along the ground. The common name from the Guaraníes Indians is “yataí arrastradiza.” Fruits are conical, yellow when mature, and bear seeds like B. yatay but smaller. Although this species is occasionally locally common, it is endangered in habitat due to agricultural utilization of the land--mainly cutting pine trees for wood.

Butia yatay has a large range in eastern and northeastern Argentina, where  it is known commonly by the old Guaraníes Indian name of “yataí.” It is distinct from the Butia of Uruguay and the north Brazilian B. capitata, with numerous differences in the trunk, fruit, seeds, leaves, and petioles. In an small area of northern Santa Fe Province, B. yatay grows alongside Trithrinax campestris and Copernicia alba in a wonderful landscape littered with tall palms. It also grows in large forested areas in great stands near the Uruguay border.

Copernicia alba is known by the Guaraníes Indian name of “caranda-í”, which is distinct from “caranday” of Trithrinax campestris. This is the most cold-resistant of all Copernicia species, and grows in forest throughout northern Argentina. It is not endangered in habitat, even though this species is commonly cut to build bungalows and “quinchos” in the cities. The leaves are palmatae, grey to green; fruits are black and ovoid; seeds germinate easily if fresh.

Euterpe edulis, called “asaí” or “palmito,” is a beautiful and delicate palm and is the only crownshaft palm in Argentina. It occurs marginally in northern Misiones Province, near the borders with Brazil and Paraguay, where it grows as an understory palm during the first few years. Unfortunately, this palm is very well-known for its edible heart, or “palmito.” The crownshaft and leaves are dark green, and the trunk is thin and similar to bamboo, being green near the crownshaft. It is commonly grown along streets and in private gardens as an ornamental. For best growth, this palm needs rich soil and plenty of water and fertilizer; under such conditions, it is a fast grower. It also has good tolerance to cold—but not frost—and is sensitive to full sun. Fruits are black when mature and seeds germinate easily and quickly when very fresh (although viability is only 20 days).

Syagrus romanzoffiana is known as “pindó” in habitat but as queen palm in cultivation. This is probably the most well-known palm throughout the world in cultivation. In habitat, S. romanzoffiana grows near large rivers, with its southern limit being the delta of the Paraná River along the border with Uruguay. There is much variation within this species, but generally this palm grows in dry areas of the inland, but it can also grow in moist conditions. Fruits are yellow and seeds germinate easily.

Trithrinax biflabellata, called “carandilla” (or small caranday), has palmata leaves and grows in a large area of the north, in tropical weather, and always near water. This palm has multiple trunks; leaves are grey to green; petioles are large and with spines in the crown; fruits are green to yellow; and seeds germinate easily if fresh. In rich soil, growth is faster than other Trithrinax species.

Trithrinax brasiliensis grows in only a small area in Argentina, where is endangered. It sometimes grows with other palms, like B. yatay and T. campestris.

Trithrinax campestris, called “caranday” by the Diaguitas Indians, is endemic to Argentina. It has palmate leaves and  grows in a large subtropical area in the mountains in the center of the country. Several variations occur in height and size of the trunk and in the color of the leaves. With Jubaea chilensis, this is the most cold-resistant palm of South America. This species has multiple trunks; fruits are yellow; and seeds germinate easily if fresh. Like the other Trithrinax species, the seed first grows a long root searching for water, after which the initial single seedling leaf grows very slowly.

Trithrinax schizophylla is very similar in appearance to T. biflabellata. It grows in northwestern Argentina and Bolivia, generally in dry, hot locations. A small and isolated population of this palm grows in semi-desert conditions and is exposed to frost. The palms are known locally by the name “carandilla.”

Others palms reported from Argentina

Old reports by local experts include Bactris gasipaes and other Bactris spp. in the area of Acrocomia chunta, (near the border with Tarija, Bolivia) and other palms without confirmation in similar areas of the intermountain jungle of the northwest, along the Paraguay River. There are also reports of Butia poni, a rare dwarf Butia, in Argentina.

Thanks to IPS, and especially to JODY HAYNES and other members.

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