Copernicia prunifera

Common name: Wax palm

Other common names: Caranda palm, Caranday palm, Carnauba palm, Carnauba wax palm, Christs thorn

Names in non-English languages: Spanish China


Originating in seasonally flooded river valleys in the Caatinga region of north-eastern Brazil, this handsome palm has leaves that produce a commercially important wax.

It develops a tall palm shape, typically 10 to 15 m (33 to 50 ft) tall, with a straight trunk supporting a rounded crown of blue-green, fan-shaped leaves. The leaf bases, which persist on the trunk after the old leaves are shed, are arranged spirally, running from the bottom to near the top of the trunk, adding to the plant's ornamental interest.

The flowers are small, creamy-white and borne singly or in clusters of a few on flower spikes that are up to 2.5 m (8.2 ft) tall and rise above the leaves. They come into bloom in the dry season, coinciding with winter in its native range and are followed by small, egg-shaped fruit around 1 to 2 cm (0.4 to 0.8 in) in diameter. They are green when young, becoming dark blue to near black when ripe.


A commercially important wax, known as 'Carnauba wax', is extracted from a thin layer of wax that coats the underside of the leaf. It is valued for its high melting point, reportedly above 80 °C (176 °F), its insolubility in water and its exceptional lustre when applied as polish to metal and other surfaces.

The pale, cream-coloured wax is used for making high-end waxing and polishing creams for cars, surfboards, shoes and flooring, as well as water-impermeable coatings used on many products, including paper and dental floss. And being edible, it is also used for giving a protective, waxy coating to pharmaceutical pills, confectionery, candy and fresh fruit such as apples.

Carnauba wax also has application in cosmetics, mainly as a texturizer in mascara, foundation makeups, lipstick and deodorant sticks.

The traditional process of extracting the wax starts with harvesting the leaves and then storing them in a dry place to wither. As they wither, the wax cracks and falls off in flakes onto a mat that has been placed underneath. The flakes are then collected and packaged or are melted and poured into moulds. The leaves are harvested in the dry season, which allows for good drying conditions, and about ten leaves are harvested from each plant a year. Approximately one to two hundred leaves are needed to obtain 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of wax.

The dried leaves are also used as thatch for roofing or are woven to make baskets, bags, hats, mats and cordage.

It is cultivated sometimes as an ornamental palm for its elegant form and eye-catching trunk and leaves. The intricate palmate leaves are also cut for backing greenery used in large floral arrangements. Their waxy coating helping to make them long-lasting.


Grows naturally in seasonally flooded tropical savanna climates, generally in areas with annual lows of 17 to 23°C, annual highs of 28 to 35°C, annual rainfall of 500 to 1500 mm and a dry season of 4 to 9 months.


New plants are usually grown from seed that lose their viability quickly and are slow to germinate. They are best sown soon after being harvested and the seedlings kept under light shade until they can be planted out. It performs best on free-draining loam and sand soils of a mildly acid to mildly alkaline nature, generally with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5 and on sites with full sun exposure.

Problem features

Naturally self-propagating, the seed fall and potentially creating dense palm groves over time. Still, there does not appear to be any record of it as a weed anywhere in the world, despite it being introduced as an ornamental into many areas outside of its native range.  It is assessed as a low weed risk species for Hawaii by the Hawaii Pacific Weed Risk Assessment (HPWRA) project.

Where it grows



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Articles, Journals, Reports and Working Papers

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