Palms are a symbol of the tropics and many have been selected and grown for their beauty. The royal palm (Roystonea regia) is a tall, elegant palm that is commonly planted along streets and boulevards in cities throughout the tropics and subtropics, including the southern United States. The sentinel palm of southern California (Washingtonia filifera) is also widely planted as an ornamental. Perhaps the most beautiful of all palms is the lipstick or sealing wax palm (Cyrostachys renda), which is native to peninsular Malaysia, southern Thailand, Borneo, and Sumatra. The sheathing leaf bases and petioles are brilliant red—a rare color for non-flower tissue in plants. Unfortunately this much coveted palm grows poorly outside of its native range.
Many of the palms have multiple uses, such as the coconut. Throughout the tropics a large number of palm species are used locally and intensively. Many of these species are now threatened. As was noted previously, a large proportion of palm species occupy small, geographically restricted areas and so local intense usage of these can have a devastating impact on their population size and survival, as can land clearance. One of the most destructive practices is the local harvesting of trees for palm hearts, which are the tasty shoot tips and associated tissue. The shoot tip is the only growing point on a palm stem and so its removal causes the death of the tree, or in branched species the stem. Increased awareness of this problem and of conservation of palms in general is necessary to ensure the biodiversity of these attractive and economically important plants.
Heywood, Vernon H. ed. Flowering Plants of the World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Stewart, L. A Guide to Palms and Cycads of the World. London: Cassell Publishers, 1994.
Les C. Cwynar