Coccothrinax boschiana

CARLO MORICI
Departamento de Ecología.
Universidad de La Laguna.
38206 Tenerife, Canarias,
Spain
palmetum@bitmailer.net
Coccothrinax boschiana M. Mejía & R. García, a robust solitary palm with heavy shiny leaves of golden and silver hues, is endemic to a small coastal area of the Dominican Republic.

 

Reprinted with permission to post on palms.org from the Vol. 46, No 1, Palms (formerly Principes), Journal of the International Palm Society
© 2002 The International Palm Society,
All rights reserved
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 called “guanal.”

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 research.

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.

Acknowledgements

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 to text)


2. Population of Coccothrinax boschiana in front of the sea, near to the town of Barreras. (return to text)


3. Unripe infructescence of Coccothrinax boschiana. Note the shining papillae on the fruit skin. (return to text)


4. Tall Coccothrinax boschiana palms grow on rocks, close to the sea.

 


5. Fibrous leaf sheaths on the trunk of Coccothrinax boschiana.  (return to text)

 

 

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