Butia capitata

Common name: Jelly palm

Other common names: Pindo palm

Names in non-English languages: Spanish Portuguese

Description

Jelly Palm is a fruiting and landscape palm originating from the Cerrado region of Brazil, a vast savanna-grassland area in the south-east of the country.

It is a slow-growing small palm that may reach heights of up to 7 m (23 ft), though is more commonly 2 to 5 m (10 to 16 ft) tall with a stout trunk up to 30 cm (1 ft) in diameter. The trunk is roughened by overlapping leaf bases, persisting after the old leaves are shed, and supports a rounded crown of large fronds curving strongly downward.

The fronds or leaves are up to 2.5 m (8.2 ft) long and typically palm-like in appearance, with long, tapering blue-grey leaflets arranged in pairs along the length. Sharp spines arm the stalk end of the frond.

Flowers small and insignificant, creamy-white and bloom from spring to summer on large, branched flower-spikes arising at the centre of the crown. They are followed by small, green, bowl-shaped fruit, around 2.5 cm (1 in) long that ripen to orange and with many tightly packed on large hanging bunches. The pulp is orange-yellow, fibrous and juicy and surrounds a hard nut with one to three seed inside.

Use

The fruit are edible when ripe, with soft pulp that easily separates for the seed. Although sometimes eaten fresh, the pulp is fibrous and is mostly puréed or juiced for making jam or jelly, or to flavour drinks, ice cream and other desserts. The flavour is mildly sour, reminding of pineapple and mango. They have a tendency to ripen all at once if harvested as a bunch.

Its small stature, showy bark and foliage, and tolerance to salt spray make it a suitable palm for home and seaside gardens.

Climate

Grows naturally in sub-humid to moderately humid subtropical and tropical lowland to mid-elevation climates, generally in areas with annual lows of 10 to 22 °C, annual highs of 20 to 35 °C, annual rainfall of 700 to 1900 mm and a dry season of 3 to 7 months.

How to grow

New plants are usually raised from seed, which can take up to eight months to germinate and benefit from cracking the hard nut enclosing the seed and pre-soaking the seed in water before sowing.

Performs best on rich, free-draining loam and sand soils of a moderately acid to slightly alkaline nature, generally with a pH of 5.0 to 7.5 and on sites with full to partial sun exposure. It has good tolerance to drought, seasonal flooding, wind and salt spray.

If grown as an ornamental the dead leaves should be pruned off to maintain a neat appearance.

Problem features

It is widely introduced and cultivated in non-native areas and is listed as a weed in at least one reference publication but there does not appear to be any record of it anywhere as a serious weed.

It is assessed as a low weed risk species for Hawaii and south Florida, respectively by the Hawaii Pacific Weed Risk Assessment project (HPWRA) and the IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas.

The fruit fall to the ground when ripe and create litter.

Where it will grow

With irrigation or groundwater

References

Books

  • Blombery, A. M. & Rodd, A. N. 1992, An informative, practical guide to palms of the world : their cultivation, care and landscape use, (Revised edition), Angus & Robertson, North Ryde, New South Wales

  • Gilman, E. F. 1997, Trees for urban and suburban landscapes, Delmar Publishers, Albany, New York

  • Henderson, A., Galeano, G. and Bernal, R. 1995, Field guide to the palms of the Americas, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey

  • Janick, J., & Paull, R. E. 2008, The encyclopedia of fruit & nuts, CABI Publishing, Wallingford, Oxfordshire

  • Lorenzi, H. 2006, Brazilian fruits & cultivated exotics (for consuming in natura), Instituto Plantarum de Estudos da Flora, Nova Odessa, San Paulo

  • Martin, F. M., et al. 1987, Perennial edible fruits of the tropics : an inventory, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), Washington, D.C.

  • Randall, R. P. 2002, A global compendium of weeds, R.G. and F.J. Richardson Press, Melbourne

  • Randall, R. P. 2007, The introduced flora of Australia and its weed status, Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management, Glen Osmond, South Australia

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