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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.

Jubaea chilensis

Jubaea chilensis in Kew's Temperate House (Image: RBG Kew)

Species information

Common name: 

Chilean wine palm

Conservation status: 

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List.

Habitat: 

Occurs at low elevations in dry river valleys or open hillsides, in seasonally dry regions with a Mediterranean climate.

Known hazards: 

None recorded

Taxonomy

Sub class: 
Superorder: 
Lilianae
Order: 
Arecales
Family: 
Arecaceae
Genus: Jubaea

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.

Genus: 
Jubaea

Discover more

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.

Description

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.

How you can help Kew save the world’s plant life and habitats at risk of extinction

Uses

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

Cultivation

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.

Useful Links

To find out more about the conservation of the Chilean wine palm, see the PALMA Foundation (Fundación para la Protección al Medio Ambiente) website 

PALMweb

See the Chilean wine palm at Kew Gardens

Search our science databases for more information on this species

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References and credits

References & Credits

Darwin, C.R. (1845). Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle Round the World, Under the Command of Capt. Fitz Roy, R.N. 2nd edition. John Murray, London.

Dransfield, J., N. W. Uhl, C. B. Asmussen, W. J. Baker, M. M. Harley, and C. E. Lewis. (2008). Genera Palmarum: The Evolution and Classification of Palms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Grau, J. (2006). Palms of Chile. Ediciones Oikos Ltda, Santiago de Chile.

Henderson, A., Galeano, G. & Bernal, R. (1995). Field Guide to the Palms of the Americas. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.

IUCN Red List (March, 2009): http://www.iucnredlist.org/

PALMA Foundation (March, 2009): www.fundacion.cl

Rundel, P.W. (2002). The Chilean wine palm. MEMBG Newsletter, 5(4).

Kew Science Editor: William Baker
Kew contributors: Sustainable Uses Group
Copy editing: Kew Publishing

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions. Full website terms and conditions.

Courses at Kew

Kew offers a variety of specialist training courses in horticulture, conservation and plant science.

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