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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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