Jubaea chilensis (Chilean wine palm)
Although Darwin described the Chilean wine palm as a ‘very ugly tree’, many consider it to be one of the world's most magnificent palms. Kew’s own impressive specimen is growing in our Temperate House.
About this Species
Although described somewhat disdainfully by Charles Darwin as a ‘very ugly tree’, many consider the Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis) to be one of the most impressive palms in the world. The Chilean wine palm flowers from November to December with fruits ripening from January onwards. The lifespan of this species is not known but there are reports of large specimens in Chile living for several hundred years.
Geography & Distribution
The Chilean wine palm is native to Chile where it has the most southerly distribution of any palm in South America. It is widely cultivated in warm temperate regions of the world.
Jubaea chilensis (Image: RBG Kew)
The immense dark-grey trunk of Jubaea chilensis grows to a vast height (up to 30 m), with a diameter of 1 m or more, and often has a swollen region though that generally tapers towards the crown. The dense crown supports between 40 and 50 green or blue grey, pinnate leaves, which on dying, fall cleanly to the ground rather than persisting on the stem. Borne amongst the leaves, the large inflorescences hang down and bear both male and female flowers. The spherical fruits are yellow or brown, and, like a mini-coconut, have a nut-like shell with three ‘eyes’ through which the root emerges at germination.
Threats & Conservation
Historically, the Chilean wine palm was extremely abundant, but several centuries of destructive over-harvesting for the collection of sap have reduced it to just a few significant populations. The remaining populations of the Chilean wine palm are mainly restricted to protected areas. However, efforts are being made by local conservation groups in Chile to reforest areas lying within the Chilean wine palm’s former range. Furthermore, the harvesting of palm sap is now limited under Chilean law, and it is hoped that non-destructive harvesting methods will eventually be implemented.
The sap from the Chilean wine palm can be fermented into a palm wine or, as is more common today, concentrated into a sweet syrup (palm honey) for culinary uses. In order to obtain the sap, the trunks are felled and the crown cut from the apex of the stem. The sap then drains out over a period lasting several months, sometimes yielding more than 300 litres. In addition to production of palm honey, the edible seeds are also harvested and the leaves are used to make baskets.
Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: 1
Germination testing: Unsuccessful
Top of Jubaea chilensis (Image: RBG Kew)
Jubaea chilensis is widely cultivated in warm temperate regions of the world as a magnificent ornamental. Adventurous gardeners in the southern parts of the UK are also finding it relatively hardy.
This species at Kew
An enormous specimen can be seen in Kew’s Temperate House. Raised from seed in 1846, it is widely believed to be the tallest glasshouse plant and is certainly the largest palm under glass.
To find out more about the conservation of the Chilean wine palm, see the PALMA Foundation (Fundación para la Protección al Medio Ambiente) website
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