|About 52 species have been described in the genus
Coccothrinax. The most recently discovered species, Coccothrinax
boschiana (Fig. 1), was described in
early 1997 by the staff of the Botanical Garden of Santo Domingo.
A marvelous place
Coccothrinax boschiana is restricted to a single mountain ridge
of solid grey limestone, located in the deep south of the Dominican
Republic, in the dry peninsula of Barahona, 5 km south of the small rural
town of Barreras (Fig. 2).
The ridge is called Sierra Martín García and occurs at the seaward end of
Sierra de Neiba that gently diminishes in height until it sinks into some of
the clearest waters of the Caribbean sea. Breathtaking scenery frames a
population of thousands of Coccothrinax boschiana that struggle for
life between the rocky cliffs and the open sea (Figs. 2, 4). The authors of
the description noted that the palm is much more abundant in the patches
that are most exposed to the salty breeze.
Dawn is the best time of the day to visit the population, as the
Caribbean sun paints the whole area with marvelous colors (Back cover).
Furthermore, midday temperatures are unbearably hot and after about 10:00 am
mosquitos start to look avidly for human beings.
These limestone slopes, densely populated by the palm, are of
Eocene-Oligocene age(de León 1994). The local vegetation is indeed
interesting. With little soil available, there is a clear tendency toward
xeromorphism. It is a very diverse open scrub, with Guaiacum sanctum,
Melocactus lemairei, Plumeria obtusa, Bursera simaruba, Pilosocereus and
a giant species of Consolea, a genus of cactus closely related to
Opuntia. Coccothrinax and Consolea are the most showy
plants that emerge above the generally low scrub. Some of the palm trunks
may appear bent or even slightly twisted. The south of the island is where
hurricanes are more destructive and many of the tall palms have been damaged
at various times in their lives.
The palm has no common name as the leaves are not used locally. It is
known as guano de Barreras, simply because this “guano” (generic name
for Coccothrinax species) grows close to this town. The population is
Coccothrinax boschiana can be found between 5 and 200 m asl. Its
locality is about 15 km NE of Barahona. Climatic data for this city (De La
Fuente 1976) indicate an average annual temperature of 26.1ºC and a yearly
rainfall of 1071.3 mm. Records of extreme minimum and maximum temperatures
are respectively 14ºC and 37.5ºC. The uppermost parts of the ridge, with
deeper soils, are sheltered from the salty breezes and host a different
vegetation, consisting of a semideciduous low forest with a large and
widespread population of Coccothrinax argentea. Local people call
this other palm species Guano Manso (“mild” or “tame coccothrinax”), because
its floppier leaves are easier to work for handicrafts. Natural hybrids
between the two species can be found along the boundary where the two
guano species overlap.
A marvelous palm
Coccothrinax boschiana is a beautiful species. Palms can bloom
when only 1 m tall (Mejía & García, 1997) and can attain 12 m or more.
Probably the most exciting character is the color of the leaves, which can
be roughly described as golden above and silvery below (Fig. 3). The leaf
shape is beautifully carinate, so the silhouette is reminiscent of that of a
palm of the genus Sabal. Fibers are thick and woody, a feature which
is unusual in Dominican species and more common in the Cuban ones. They coat
the trunk forming striking rhomboid criss-cross patches (Fig. 5). The warty
fruits are pinkish-purple. Fruit warts appear in a few species of
Coccothrinax and are an unexplained adaptation that invites more
The new species in cultivation
Coccothrinax boschiana is a promising ornamental species that is
being tried in cultivation. It shows the usual hardiness typical of the
genus, to which can probably be added a high tolerance to salinity. The
oldest cultivated plant of Coccothrinax boschiana is a trunkless
specimen grown at Fairchild Tropical Garden. It was erroneously tagged as
Coccothrinax gracilis. Armando Reyes, an IPS member in Miami, advised me
in 1999 that it was strikingly similar to the recently described new
species. We quickly confirmed its identity. It grew from wild material
collected by Zanoni in the type locality of C. boschiana long before
it was recognized as a new species. Seedlings are growing in the Botanic
Garden of Santo Domingo and in the Palmetum in Santa Cruz. Seeds collected
and distributed by Leonel Mera germinated in many private collections.
I wish to thank Milo Matos, the mayor of the town of Barreras, and his
family. They gave me accommodation and took me twice to the palm population.
I would like to express my gratitude to Ricardo García, Milciades Mejía and
Leonel Mera who organized all my Coccothrinax adventures in the
country, including this one. Financial support from the Palmetum of Santa
Cruz de Tenerife is gratefully acknowledged.
1. Adult Coccothrinax boschiana. (return
2. Population of Coccothrinax boschiana in
front of the sea, near to the town of Barreras. (return
3. Unripe infructescence of Coccothrinax boschiana.
Note the shining papillae on the fruit skin. (return
4. Tall Coccothrinax boschiana palms grow on
rocks, close to the sea.
5. Fibrous leaf sheaths on the trunk of
Coccothrinax boschiana. (return