Vanuatu in the South Pacific is home to a beautiful
but endangered palm. Cathy Clarkin describes the islanders' efforts
to save it from extinction. Fry, K.; Siwatibau, S.; and Clarkin, C. Chamaerops No.30 Spring 1998
The South Pacific island country of Vanuatu is home
to 14 endemic, 5 non-endemic, and 2 naturalized species of palms
. Of the endemic palms, 3 are listed as endangered by the World
Conservation Union. Of these, Carpoxylon macrospermum is of a monotypic
The Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific
is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that undertakes development
and environmental projects within Vanuatu. During one of their projects,
the Profitable Environmental Protection project, they determined
that a possible method for saving the endangered Carpoxylon macrospermum
would be to start an enterprise to raise money to fund conservation
activities. Out of this idea grew the company Island Palm Products,
which markets seeds of Carpoxylon and other palms world-wide.
CARPOXYLON MACROSPERMUM, listed as a highly endangered
palm by the World Conservation Union is of a monotypic genus endemic
to Vanuatu. In terms of evolution, it is interesting in that it
has no close relatives in close geographical proximity. Botanists
first described Carpoxylon in 1875 from a specimen collected on
the southern island of Aneityum in 1859. Later attempts to find
it on Aneityum failed. Thus, it was thought to be extinct until
its rediscovery on the island of Santo in 1987 by Australian
botanist John Dowe. He reported its occurrence only in cultivation.
Later, another botanist reported its occurrence on Tanna also in
cultivation. Based on this information, it was thought that there
were no more natural stands left.
A nation-wide survey mounted by FSP and led by John
Dowe found a total of 32 mature fruiting trees in natural stands
on three southern islands and some 122 mature fruiting trees in
cultivation or escaped from cultivation on a total of six islands.
Since 1994 when the survey was conducted, a few more trees have
been reported in cultivation on another three islands.
The population and social survey found that the
palm was cultivated mostly by man for a range of uses, including
the following: the ripe fruit for tobacco pipe; the dead leaf top
for a broom; the leaf sheath for a bowl, shovel, mat or baby bath;
the young fruit and the seedling for popular and nutritious snacks;
and the bark for medicine and contraceptives. The fruit
of the palm also serves as a source of food for land crabs and flying
foxes, which in turn are eaten by villagers.
Carpoxylon macrospermum prefers well-drained, moist,
rich soils on valley slopes, in riverine areas and coastal forests.
It grows best in sheltered, partially shady locations. Healthy stands
have also been found in abandoned settlements in the high, cooler
inland areas of the island of Malekula. The seedlings tend to grow
close to the mother trees in amongst the forest undergrowth, on
ground well furnished with leaf litter and humus.