The Palms of Cuba (continued)

This is a rather large number of species for such a relatively small area. As stated previously, Coccothrinax and Copernicia are in need of a great amount of taxonomic work. The greatest problem in researching these genera is the hybridization and variability that can occur within some species. In Copernicia, for example, many hybrids have been documented and even given names, as they were once thought to be distinct species.  Some of these are Copernicia x textilis (C. baileyana x C. hospita), Copernicia x shaferi (C. cowellii x C. hospita), Copernicia x burretiana (C. macroglossa x C. hospita), Copernicia x sueroana (C. rigida x C. hospita), and Copernicia x vespertilionum (C. gigas x C. rigida). As might be expected, seed from these hybrids will produce a wide range of offspring. For example, seed of Copernicia x burretiana will produce plants that look like C. macroglossa, C. hospita, and everything in between.

There are areas in Cuba where the hybrid populations are so diverse that it is difficult to understand what the original species were that produced these offspring. Some of the plants in these populations are truly extraordinary. It is exciting to see this evolution occurring, as eventually a new species may be born from this melting pot of DNA. The same occurs in Coccothrinax, but perhaps not so graphically. It is perhaps more the case that certain Coccothrinax species are quite variable and when looking at the two extremes of a single species, it appears that they are two different species. Hybrids do also occur quite frequently, though and it will be a difficult genus to finally understand and do a taxonomic study of. No one seems very eager to attempt it just yet.

Many Cuban palm species will grow well here in South Florida, as well as elsewhere in the world. Not all species will necessarily grow well here though. Such species as Bactris cubensis, Thrinax rivularis, Copernicia cowellii, Coccothrinax pseudorigida, and others may not do well here because of the elevation they grow at or the serpentine soils they grow in. It will take time to see if they can adapt to our conditions here. All are well worth trying though, if and when they ever become available in cultivation. To grow them well it may be necessary to understand the conditions in which they grow in-habitat and to try to duplicate those conditions as best as possible in cultivation. This is, of course, true of all palms, not just Cuban species.

There is not enough room here to go into detail about each species of Cuban palm, but I would like to mention a few. So many of the species are so outstanding in their beauty, it is hard to pick and choose so I will mention just a few that are not yet seen much in cultivation.

There are two Copernicias that are the two extremes in size but very much equal in their beauty. Copernicia fallaense is the largest and grandest of all Copernicias. It is similar in appearance to Copernicia baileyana but is even larger than that majestic palm. The smooth columnar trunks are whitish to light gray in color. The crown of slightly diamond-shaped leaves is almost always silvery blue in color. Trunks can be up to 2.5 feet in diameter and leaves up to 6 feet or more across. Height can reach 60 feet. Copernicia fallaense is now known from only one locale and is considered seriously endangered.

 

Copernicia cowellii is perhaps the most beautiful species in this genus. It grows in serpentine soils and that is perhaps the reason for its striking coloration. The tops of the leaves are a medium to dark green while the undersides of the leaves are powdery blue. This is the only species of Copernicia that exhibits two colors, as all other species have the same coloration on both sides of the leaves. The leaves are held very stiffly in a tight cluster giving the crown a ball-like appearance. Younger specimens hold a petticoat of dead leaves down to the ground while taller palms show off a smooth trunk about 6 inches in diameter. These palms only grow to about 8 feet and begin flowering when less than 3 feet tall. The entire crown of leaves is perhaps only slightly larger than 3 feet across. This is definitely a palm that, once seen, will be remembered forever. It is one of the gems of Cuba.

 

It is difficult to pick just a couple Coccothrinax to discuss, as there are many unique and beautiful species in Cuba. Perhaps one of the most beautiful is Coccothrinax borhidiana. It reminds one of a miniature Copernicia macroglossa. Overall height is only 8 to 10 feet, and the trunk, when older, is smooth and 4-5 inches in diameter.  Leaves are not deeply divided, and appear orbicular. The crown of leaves is held very closely and stiffly with old leaves hanging down, giving the appearance of a petticoat. Coccothrinax borhidiana is also one of the most endangered Cuban palms, existing in only one small area along a cliff on the north coast.

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