Paschalococos and the Disappearing Palms

Extinct is Forever' as the posters say. Carlo ponders this, and explores and explains about other vulnerable species of palm in this well-researched article.
by Carlo Morici, Palmetum de Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Parque Maritimo, 38001 Canarias, Spain
Chamaerops No.40, published online 19-02-2001

Photo: 'Last refuge' - Cocco thrinax barbadensis survives only in one or two locations on Antigua.

Paschalococos disperta would be a great introduction for the Canary Islands. I am sure that this feather palm from Easter Island would do wonderfully in other subtropical and Mediterranean areas. Its native island is located at about 28 degrees southern latitude, making this palm resistant enough to cold to even grow in Southern France. Sadly, nobody will ever grow Paschalococos because it is extinct.

For a plant lover, a plant in its pot is just a part of a dream which includes memoirs of an exotic locality with plenty of animal life, mysterious people, a curious climate, and a taste for adventure. I love to read about palms in their original environments. The habitat tells a lot about the plant and the palm tells a lot about its home. I definitely think that some palms have an Asiatic look, while some others look Australian. Some "smell" like savanna and some grow in a "Cloud Forest Style." Take a look at the palms in your dining room: the tall Dypsis lutescens (Areca or Bamboo palm) close to the window is perfectly adapted to the white sand beaches of Madagascar; that small clump of Chamaedorea elegans (Parlour palm) evolved in the understorey of humid forests of inland Mexico. There, the poor soils contain a lot of limestone and it can be quite cold at night. Howea forsteriana (Kentia) could tell long stories about its native habitat: a windy and humid island in the South West Pacific.

The ecological problems known to all of us are deeply affecting palms. The general public talks continuously about the disappearing tropical rain forests, but seem to be less concerned about the loss of other palm habitats such as dry forests, scrubs, savannas, semi-deserts and coastal bushlands. These ecosystems are home to most of the palm species suited for cultivation.

I have been stimulated to write this paper by a book published in late 1996. It is the first "Status Survey and Action Plan" for the palm family produced by the I.U.C.N. (International Union for Conservation of Nature). The editor, Dennis Johnson, gathered the efforts of 30 palm specialists from many countries; these specialists are the same people who produced most of the prolific palm literature of the last decade.
According to the survey, the situation is apparently going toward a disastrous collapse. About 80% of the palm species of the globe are threatened to some extent, or, even worse, we are ignoring their conservation status. A dramatic datum is that 21 species are classified as "Probably Extinct." This means that there are no more wild stands of those species and, if a rediscovery will ever occur, only a few old isolated specimens are likely to be found.

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