Bactris gasipaes

Douglas Justice, UBC Botanical Garden’s Associate Director of Horticulture and Collections, wrote today’s entry:

I was recently on a botanical tour to study endangered magnolias in the mountains of Colombia. That country boasts an almost unbelievably rich assemblage of plants. According to some estimates, there are 50,000 vascular plant species native to Colombia. Besides the magnolias, which were certainly impressive, I was struck most by the diversity of palms. We saw both wild and cultivated palms, including the astonishing Ceroxylon quindiuense (Quindío wax palm), written about in a previous Botany Photo of the Day. The number of palms in Colombia is staggering–there are 44 different genera and some 230 species. Our group had the amazing good fortune to visit the home of Rodrigo Bernal, the author of numerous publications on palms, and co-author of the recently published Palmas de Colombia Guía de Campo (Field Guide to the Palms of Colombia). Planted out on his small farm were hundreds of species of palms, including fine specimens of Bactris gasipaes (known as chontaduro in Colombia, and commonly called peach-palm in English).

Bactris is a genus of about 240 species of spiny palms native to Central and South America. According to David Jones in his book Palms Throughout the World (a spectacularly good introduction to the world of palms), some Bactris species are ornamental, but have not become popular in cultivation. Little wonder, considering their fearsome armature. Nevertheless, Bactris gasipaes is cultivated widely for its edible fruits, which resemble peaches to some degree (see the Wikipedia entry on Bactris gasipaes for images), as well as for its “cabbage.” Palm cabbage (a.k.a. palm hearts, or palmito) refers to the edible apical bud and unexpanded leaf sheathes and leaves of certain palms. Palm cabbage is sometimes known as millionaire’s salad, as palms must be felled to harvest this material–a single palm, which may be of considerable age, supplying a single heart. Indeed, a number of palms are now endangered throughout the tropics because of such harvesting. Bactris gasipaes is often promoted for its cabbage, as it is an exceptionally fast grower–harvestable at 12 to 18 months. It is a good substitute for threatened palm species because it naturally grows multiple stems from its roots, and hence, can provide a more sustainable harvest. A fascinating and exhaustive analysis of the peach-palm from a crop perspective can be seen in this article by Hernández Bermejo, J. E. and J. León, Eds., published by the FAO.

And an update from a few weeks ago, by Daniel: Some of you expressed an interest with the Carex interrupta entry to to be updated when more about Dana Cromie’s Remnants exhibition was available online. You can now view some images from the opening reception, check out some of the prints on Dana’s site, or read a review published in The Ubyssey: Dana Cromie depicts natural devastation at Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

Bactris gasipaes
Bactris gasipaes

5 responses to “Bactris gasipaes”

  1. Knox M. Henry

    I find it intriguing that the spines on the stalk in the upper photo seem to have distinct, separated bands. Or should I say that the bands segmantize the spines. Any idea why this occurs?

  2. Bryan Brunner

    Those bands are the leaf scars.

  3. sonnia hill

    Grew up eating chontaduros. It is an acquired taste as my husband, from Ohio, does not understand the powdery delight of one of those. Add salt to taste and enjoy.

  4. Bill Barnes

    Ate palm cabbage as kid , we called it Swamp Cabbage and came from the Cabbage Palm , Sabal palmetto , native from South Carolina into Florida . Easy palm to grow from seed and matures fast . As per Bactris it is raised by indigenous Indians in Central American deliberately for the fruit and they plant a Cercropia tree next to the palm , they grow about the same rate so when the fruit is ready to harvest they climb the Cercropia tree and lean over and gather the fruit as they cannot climb the palm. Clever these folks. I am certain the fruit is better than the cabbage , although good with a bit of salt pork for flavor .

  5. jessica

    Thanks for another fascinating bio of an amazing plant.
    I love the story about the folks growing these prickly palms planting a Cercropia tree next to it, so they can harvest the fruit. Excellent solution to a sticky problem.
    I love this site.

Leave a Reply