Palm Archives

Notes by Joerg Schumann on some lesser known palms in the first of what will hopefully be a series of such articles.
by Joerg Schumann, Rohrsdorf, Germany
Chamaerops No.38, Spring Edition 2000

Socratea exorrhiza, a beautiful, stilt-rooted palm from South America

“Palm Archives“ is a new feature of CHAMAEROPS. Starting in this issue, some palms and other exotics will be presented which are relatively unknown or unusual in cultivation. There is little information about these plants in palm literature, and we think they are worth a closer look. In the new CHAMAEROPS Palm Archives, cold hardy palms are included as well as tropical palms and plants from temperate zones.


Palm Archive No. 1 - Salacca zalacca

Never before have I seen a faster germinating and growing palm! Some years ago I bought tropical fruits in the supermarket. Among them were some mysterious fruits; they were a little bit smaller than an apple with snakelike skin. They were offered as "Maracujas." I know what a Maracuja looks like; this wasn‘t it. I was curious about what would happen if I planted them, as in a German palm book I saw a photo of these same fruits. According to the book, they should be Salacca edulis, but I wasn‘t sure. Inside the fruits were brownish seeds, about 2-3 cm, irregulary formed. After only three days the first seeds germinated, and four weeks later the first sprout appeared. After 6-8 weeks the first two-divided leaf was complete; now it was clear that this was Salacca zalacca, formerly known as Salacca edulis.

Salacca zalacca is widely grown in Southeast Asia, especially for its fruits. Salacca zalacca doesn't develop a stem, but the leaves can reach about 6m. Nearly all parts of the plants are very spiny, except the leaf surfaces. The sprouts look like a Calamus, and in truth both species are related. The leaves show a waxy, glossy surface and are light to dark green and silvery beneath. Even with the second leaf the plant can reach 30-40 cm, and the first mature leaves come soon. The flowers and the fruits develop directly over the ground. Salacca grows mostly in wet areas, so they prefer regular watering and higher humidity. Semi-shade to shade is best for growing these palms; protect them from full sun. Salacca also grows indoors, when given enough humidity.

Salacca zalacca belongs to Calamoidae, so there is a relation to Calamus, Raphia, Metroxylon, Plectocomia, Mauritia and others. Have a look at the seeds, and you will note this. Another characteristic feature are the spines, which we know from the Rattan palms like Calamus, Plectocomia and Daemonorrhops. In my opinion this palm is worth trying for indoor cultivation, as they are fast growing and adaptable to these conditions. For further information send me an e-mail at


Palm Archive No. 2 - Socratea exorrhiza

This palm is well known as the “stilt root palm,“ but there are many palms developing stilt roots, like Wettinia, Iriartea, Dictyocaryum, and many more. Socratea, however, develops the most impressive stilt roots; sometimes they are so high that you can walk through them! But these stilt roots are only one characteristic feature of the genus, which includes 5 different species. The name "Socratea" was taken from the Greek philosopher Socrates.

Socratea exorrhiza is the most widespread species; its habitat is from Nicaragua to nearly all parts of South America. This species grows up to 1000 m, but mostly on the lowlands. If anyone has seen this plant at maturity, you may understand my enthusiasm. There are the dark brown, spiny roots, and, much more impressive, the fantastic crown. The leaflets are arranged in different planes and also divided in segments, so the leaves look plumose.

Socratea exorrhiza is a single stemmed species and grows up to 20m, but mostly up to 12m. The ripe fruits are yellowish, round to ovoid, and about 3x2cm. They grow best in semi-shade to bright conditions, but protect them from full sun. Also, these plants enjoy plenty of water and higher humidity. I know some guys who have been growing this palm for many years in an east-facing window, so these species seem very adaptable for indoor cultivation as well.

Growing palms of this species is easy when the seeds are fresh. For many years I‘ve had high-quality seeds from Toby Spanner, with very good germination rates. At first there is a well root growing, and after this, a red-brown sprout up to 10 cm develops. The first two-divided leaves develop soon after. Any questions about this really beautiful palm? Please contact me via e-mail at


  28-01-23 - 22:53GMT
 What's New?
 New palm book
 Date: 24-05-2004

An Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms
by Robert Lee Riffle, Paul Craft.
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Chamaerops 48
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'Palmen in Mitteleuropa'
by Mario Stähler
This german book tells you all about how to cultivate your palms in Central Europe. more...