12.1.12

Oil Palms--A Case of Two Identities


An American Oil Palm

In our amenable climate in Miami, we can grow many thousands of different plants. Even when speaking about plants using their specific Latin binomial names, plants can be confusing and difficult to keep separate. The use of common names in plant naming is even more confusing, and can lead to some cases where plant choices can be badly mixed up. Such is the case with Oil Palms, which can have twice-confusing names. There are the tall, slender and regal American Oil Palms, and the shorter, broader, African Oil Palms. The American group grows rather slowly, whereas the African group can grow with surprising speed, becoming a weed in some climates. I say that these groups have twice-confusing names because there are members of the African Oil palm group which are native to the Americas, leading them to have a common name of American Oil Palm ! We then have a problem of 2 radically different genera, from largely disparate continents, with the same common name in the same plant family.

 I have been taken to task rather often about my interest in using the highly specific Latin plant names since many people feel this has a snob aspect to it. I disagree, replying to those critics with "how would you describe your car? The thing with 4 wheels and shiny paint ? " People can describe their property with amazing detail, but seem uninterested to describe their valued plants with similar detail. Let me add  some clarity to this conundrum of the Tale of Two Palms. 


young American Oil Palms
in a landscape setting





The American Oil Palms, comprised within the 4 genera of Attalea, Scheelea, Maximiliana, and Orbignya, are tall-growing feather palms, often growing to 50 feet or more in height. They can grow as much as 40 feet before they even form a trunk. All species in this group grow in the New World, most are from South America.





African Oil palm
Elaeis guineensis

The African Oil Palms, all of which are in the genus Elaeis, are Old World ( usually) and one species in the New World. They are fast growing, often more broad than tall, and are the primary commercial source of palm oil, with many thousands of acres / hectares in cultivation, especially in Asia. Both are good landscape plants, although the American Oil Palm species, in my opinion, are vastly superior as regal and imposing specimens especially well suited for boulevard and park plantings. The African Oil palms are easier to locate in many nurseries, since the palms set copious seed which sprouts easily. The palms will rapidly grow to 20 or 30 feet tall in a few years with moderate care, but require more pruning care and more fertilizer than an American Oil Palm.            




seedling African Oil Palms
As with so aspects of landscaping, there are many choices available no matter where you have a landscape. So many people use the same few plants they see in their neighborhoods, and even landscape architects have a rather limited palette of plants, perhaps favoring those choices which have worked well in the past. There are such good information resources available to both professional and home landscapers--why not use the information available ? The plant world has wonderful diversity; use it to your best effect !


Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens     

4 comments:

  1. Nice looking palms...Do You have any for sale?I have five of the African oil palms that I grew from seeds.I like them so much I picked up six seeds in front of the Swedish ambasy in Malysa put them in my pocket was going to plant them at my boyfrends new house in Thailand...but forgot I had them...when washing my pants back in fort Laulderdale.I planted them in pearlite and vermickulite keeping them very wet.4 months later 5 seedlings.

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  2. Greetings SCCfla- just for the sake of information, African Oil Palms are grown by the millions in all of SE ASia as a commercial crop, so you didn't disrupt the economy by moving a few seeds from one country to another, although the practice of transporting uncleaned seeds in-country should be frowned upon. Now that they are clean......:>))

    We don't sell plants at Pinecrest Gardens; we are a public garden. You can find American Oil Palms and their kin at Searle Brothers Nursery, and at Jesse Durko Nursery, both in Davie. Searle is wholesale, but has 2 sales per year open to the public. Many palm sales have American Oil Palms, often called "Cohune" palms, but this is a generalization.

    Good hunting !

    Craig Morell
    Pinecrest Gardens

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  3. On would like to buy the African oil palm.
    I need to how much and how fast will it arrive. My email is annielorial@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  4. On would like to buy the African oil palm.
    I need to how much and how fast will it arrive. My email is annielorial@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete