Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Looking up at an Imperial Palm

Roystonea oleracea, so called imperial palm, is quite a common palm around Santarém nowadays but I remember back in 1984, the year I planted this one, they were rare. I would like to speculate that mine, like most in Brazil, is a descendant of the one planted by Dom João (soon to be king of Portugal) at the Botanical Gardens in Rio de Janeiro around 1808. The palm is native of the Caribbean region and I would assume that seeds were brought to Brazil, as opposed to plants, but I haven't found any historical details to prove it. I've been waiting anxiously for this imperial palm to produce fruit but they don't flower until they are 20 years or older. The original palm planted by Dom João flowered the first time in 1829. The story goes, and it's documented, that the royal family left behind in Brazil by Dom João were so jealous of the palm that they ordered slaves to burn the seeds. As I tell visitors at Bosque Lúcia, it didn't take long for the slaves working at the Botanical Gardens to realize that these seeds were very valuable and they consequently sold them off, undercover, of course. The imperial palm planted by Dom João was killed by lightening in 1973! In the right environment and with some luck, imperials can reach the age of 200 years.

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