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Page 319 Quito Palm The Quito palm (Parajubaea cocoides) is a graceful, elegant tree native to the Andes. For a palm, it grows at remarkably high elevations, occurring at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,000 m along the middle-level uplands of Ecuador and southern Colombia. Because of its beauty, this species is cultivated as an ornamental in the principal Ecuadorian cities as well as in Pasto, Colombia. It is best known, however, as the palm of Quito, a mountain city at 2,800 m above sea level. Along the road leading from the airport into Quito, handsome plantings may be seen, and the tree is common in squares (for instance, the Parque Bolívar, Plaza de Independencia, and the Catholic University), as well as in private yards. But this plant is much more than ornamental. It bears long clusters of 30–50 edible fruits that look like little coconuts, 1 with three eyes and hard, thick shells. All these “minicoconuts”—which are smaller than a golfball—mature at about the same time, and fall off when ripe. They are then broken open and eaten raw. The kernel is the size of a macadamia nut. Its fleshy mesocarp is sweet and contains usable oil. These nuts are so popular—especially with children—that you can hardly find one unless you look early in the morning. Despite its popularity, the Quito palm has scarcely been grown outside Ecuador. There are, however, scattered trees in San Francisco, California; in northern New Zealand; and in Sydney, Australia, where some very old specimens are to be found in the Royal Botanical Gardens. Beautifully shaped, like a dainty coconut palm, this plant makes a spectacular ornamental. Its trunk is slender, sometimes curved like the coconut's, and can top 8 m or more. Above this is a graceful, spreading circle of fronds. Like other palms, this is not an easy plant to propagate. As a rule, palms are slow to germinate and very slow to grow. 2 The Quito palm, 1 They are locally called “coquitos” (little coconuts), but that name is also applied to different nuts in Chile and other countries. 2 Quito palm seeds must be thoroughly dried before germination is attempted. They are available from the abundant production of the palms in Quito and can be gathered along the streets.
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Page 320 ~ enlarge ~ The streets, parks, plazas, and patios of Quito are dominated by the Quito palm. But these graceful trees are more than just ornamental. The “minicoconuts” that fall from them are much appreciated, especially by the city's children. (W.H. Hodge) however, is relatively quick growing, taking only 3–4 years to produce its first seeds—lightning fast for a palm. Little is known about the Quito palm's requirements. It seems to thrive on ample water, but also can be cultivated in dry areas. Its Ecuadorian habitat has a short (1 or 2 month) dry season. Apparently, its deep roots grow straight down, so they usually reach layers with subsoil containing moisture year-round. It is a sun-loving species, but (at least for a palm) shows a high resistance to cold. In its habitat—3,000 m up in the Andes—night temperatures are in the range of 5–10°C. Indeed, it is probable that the plant requires cool nights: in areas where night temperatures are consistently over 13–16°C, it seems to lose its vigor and health.
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Page 321 PROSPECTS Andean Region. These palms should make handsome ornamentals in cool and dry areas in many parts of the Andes. Moreover, the nuts could be an increasingly useful product for home consumption, for sale in markets, and perhaps to feed guinea pigs (they dehusk the nuts with their sharp teeth). The plant also has increased potential as an ornamental. Although naturally occurring stands are not known, they may yet be found. The Andes should be searched for germplasm because the specimens growing in Quito and other cities seem to be very uniform—they even seem to be all the same age. 3 Other Developing Areas. Because this is a cool-weather palm, it is unsuited to most of the normal palm-growing regions. However, it seems unsurpassed for cool, mild areas such as the lower Himalayas, the uplands of eastern Africa, and the mountains of New Guinea. These regions have the right habitat for what is one of the most beautiful and spectacular palm species known. It is not likely to become a major economic crop, but the nuts would be enjoyed and would provide some nourishment, especially to children. Industrialized Regions. The Quito palm should make a handsome ornamental in cool and dry areas of warm-temperate regions. It is promising for use in large public areas such as parks. It is now becoming established as a new landscape feature in northern and central California. Coconuts cannot grow in such areas. All in all, it is a unique and beautiful species that answers the home gardener's need for a long-lived, elegant, vigorous, and tough ornamental tree. The small, edible nuts are a bonus. One caution must be noted, however. This plant may prove to be quite restricted in its adaptability and may, for example, strictly require a cool summer climate. 3 The Quito palm's little-known relative, the janchicoco (Parajubaea torallyi), occurs in the ravines of sandstone mountains in central and southern Bolivia (mostly to the east of the city of Sucre in Chuquisaca) where no rain falls for 10 months of the year. It is considered to be an endangered species. However, it, too, is potentially valuable—perhaps even more valuable than the Quito palm. Its fleshy, sweet nuts are eaten, and they contain usable oil. The plant is also used for hearts of palm; the fiber in its frond is woven into ropes, baskets, saddles, and mats; its fruits serve as animal feed; its leaf midrib is burned for fuel; and its leaf stalk is used for construction. It is also cultivated as an ornamental.
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