Phoenix rupicola - The Cliff Date Palm
A palm that's about to become very popular, and
so beautiful it shouldn't be a Phoenix palm at all.
Tobias W. Spanner, Tizianstr.44 , 80638 Munich, Germany
Chamaerops No. 18, published online 23-07-2002
on this article:
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Phoenix rupicola, the Cliff Date Palm
For a moment, put aside all the characteristics
you would usually associate with Phoenix palms. Forget the oases
and hard-leaved, stocky and spiny palms frying under the burning
desert sun. Instead, imagine a Phoenix Palm as beautiful as a Coconut,
with soft, gracefully arching, glossy green fronds and a smooth,
slender, light grey trunk, curving outwards from some steep slope
or cliff in a hilly jungle. Phoenix roebelenii? Well, close, but
there is actually a Phoenix that easily beats even the Pygmy Date
Palm for looks. Phoenix rupicola, (emphasis on the 'pic') the Cliff
Date Palm is its name. Its home is the lower foothills of the Himalaya
in India, namely Sikkim, West-Bengal and Arunchal Pradesh and probably
in Bhutan, which lies in between these three Indian states. It grows
on steep slopes or cliffs, sometimes on bare rock at altitudes between
100 and 400m in more or less dense, lush monsoonal forest, and is
frequently seen together with an equally stunning palm, Wallichia
disticha. Phoenix rupicola is easily distinguished from any other
species of Phoenix. Its trunk is solitary, slender, light grey in
colour and devoid of any remains of leaf bases or conspicuous leaf
scars, around 20cm (8") in diameter and up to 12m high, topped
by a full, rounded crown of numerous strongly arching leaves, about
3m (10') long. The emerging leaves are furnished with a white scurf.
The numerous leaflets are closely spaced, long and narrow, drawn
out into a finely pointed apex, bright glossy green in colour and
all inserted in one plane on the rachis, giving the leaf a flat
appearance. The latter feature is clearly apparent already in young
plants and makes identification very easy. Fruits mature through
yellow and violet red to dark red-purple. The seeds are oblong.
1,5 to 2cm long and narrow, deeply grooved on one side.
Like other Phoenix palms, the Cliff Date Palm is
easy and fast growing. It is very adaptable and can be grown in
temperate as well as tropical climates, certainly in areas where
temperatures do not drop below -6C. Phoenix rupicola has not been
tried to any extent as an indoor plant, though its environmental
requirements suggest that it would do as well as Phoenix roebelenii,
the Pygmy Date. It will certainly do very well as a conservatory-plant.
Although not particularly fussy, for best results the Cliff Date
Palm requires a humus-rich, well-drained soil and regular applications
of fertilizer. Its resistance to drought is lower than in most other
species of the genus and plants should be kept well watered at all
times. It does equally well in full sun or partial shade though
young plants look best if somewhat protected. Due to its flexible
leaves, its resistance to wind is considerable and it will take
some exposure when established. In areas of low humidity, Phoenix
rupicola can be easily attacked by spider mites and regular checks
should be made. Propagation is by seeds only; they germinate readily
after 1 to 3 months at 2O to 3O°C.
Despite all its qualities and, because of its size
and habit, its great potential as a landscape subject, Phoenix rupicola
is still rare in cultivation. As far as my knowledge is concerned,
with one possible exception, there are no mature specimens in all
of Europe and one particular reason for that might have been the
scarcity of seeds. Seeds collected from the rather few Phoenix rupicola
in cultivation around the world though present another problem.
Like all other Phoenix, the species is dioecious and hybridization
with other members of the genus is so common that seeds coming from
cultivated sources frequently produce plants, which do not have
the desired qualities of the true species. Especially for landscape
purposes, the source of seeds or plants should be taken into account
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