Chuniophoenix - Chinese Charmer
Tobias Spanner looks at this beautiful palm,
new to cultivation.
Tobias Spanner, Tizianstrasse 44, 8000 München 19, Germany
Chamaerops No. 6, published online 23-10-2002
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
Author and Subject: Chuniophoenix in China.
The genus Chuniophoenix comprises three species
of small clustering fan palms distributed from Vietnam, south China
and Hainan Island, where they occur in the undergrowth of evergreen
Botanically, Chuniophoenix belongs to the sub-tribe
Coryphinae. Their relatives are the fabulous Corypha and Nannorrhops.
Chuniophoenix are rather small palms with open crowns
on top of thin, ringed, clustering stems. A remarkable characteristic
on which they can be distinguished from other fan palms is their
total lack of a hastula.
These plants are mostly hermaphrodites - each flower
carrying female and male characteristics. Inflorescences appear
among the leaves and produce quantities of small, mostly single
seeded green to yellow fruits which are 1-2cms in diameter and which
turn scarlet when ripe.
There are three species of Chuniophoenix: C. nana
and C. humilis are dainty little palms, resembling Rhapis and rarely
more than 1.5 metres in height. Chuniophoenix hainanensis, the most
impressive member of the genus, forms quite large clumps of slender
stems, about 5-7cms in diameter, reaching 3 metres in height and
topped by broad, spreading crowns.
Don't feel embarrassed if you haven't heard of Chuniophoenix
before. Although these lovely and attractive palms would make great
ornamentals, they are almost unknown in cultivation.
Seeds or even plants have only very, very rarely
been imported to the western world. This is a great pity because
all three species should prove quite adaptable in cultivation either
indoors or out.
Chuniophoenix prefer a seasonal climate with hot,
very wet summers and cool to mild, rather dry winters. Ideal summer
temperatures would be between 23-28°C. Winter temperatures can
range from 13-17°C or lower. Whereas Chuniophoenix nana prefers
shade or half shade for optimum growth, Chuniophoenix hainanensis
likes more light and can be grown in full sun when older. It does
grow in shade also but gets a bit unsightly. None of them is too
fussy about soil conditions but do best in a good loamy humus and
well-drained mix. Because of their moderate size, Chuniophoenix
are well suited to pot culture and they should do well in a greenhouse.
The smaller species withstand indoor conditions quite well - their
requirements probably being much like those of Rhapis. Chuniophoenix
hainanensis might also prove to be a nice patio plant for a warm
and protected spot.
All three species have yet to be tried outdoors
in Europe. Chuniophoenix is cultivated in southern Florida and might
also adapt well to cultivation in the milder parts of the Mediterranean
The resistance to frost is unknown, although I would
estimate them to withstand about -5°C, as indicated by other
palms in this area of China & Vietnam. Frost occurs very rarely
there but temperatures drop to 0°C occasionally.
Division by separating suckers from an old plant
could be possible, at least with the smaller species, but, with
lack of old plants, propagation is usually from seed (which is hard
enough to get). Seeds resemble those of Caryota in size and shape
and are of a light brown to beige colour. They germinate very quickly,
usually within a few days or weeks if fresh.
So, if you can manage to get hold of one of these
Chinese lovelies, give it a try. It will be worth it for its rarity
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