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Jubaea chilensis (Mol.) Baill.

Wine Palm

Modern name

Jubaea chilensis (Molina) Baill.


Cocos chilensis Mol.; J. spectabilis H. B. K.

A tall evergreen tree, with a trunk 40 to 60 ft high and 15 ft in girth, the stem naked to the leaves, but covered with small cracks running lengthwise. Leaves pinnate up to 15 ft long in adult specimens, the upper ones more or less erect, the lower ones horizontal; leaflets (‘pinnae’) 1 to 2 ft long; the whole forming a dense hemispherical head of foliage. On young plants, of course, the leaves are much smaller and only 3 or 4 ft long and on seedlings the leaves are undivided and remain so for a few seasons; they become larger as the tree grows older, and reach their maximum size just before the trunk commences to form and grow in height.

Native of Chile, where until early in the 19th century it was very plentiful. Darwin, in his Voyage of the Beagle, records that on one estate alone it numbered hundreds of thousands. That was early in the 19th century; now it is comparatively rare, having been cut down for the sake of its sugary sap which, when concentrated by boiling, acquires a treacle-like consistency and taste. It seems that the sap can only be acquired by felling the palm and collecting it at the upper end of the trunk, from which it continues to flow for a considerable time. A large tree will in the end yield as much as 90 gallons. The boiled sap was known to the Chileans as ‘palm honey’ and was much esteemed by them, but the genuine product is now no longer produced in any quantity.

There is a magnificent example of this palm in the Temperate House at Kew, its trunk 10 ft in girth and some 45 ft high, the spread of its foliage 30 ft. Irwin Lynch, who left Kew in 1879, records in the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society, Vol. 38, p. 202, that a fine specimen once existed near the principal entrance to the gardens from Kew Green. It had disappeared before I entered Kew in 1883, and subsequent attempts to grow it in the open air have failed. Magnificent trees may be seen in several gardens on the shores of Lake Como.

In his garden at Torquay, Devon, Mr G. R. Muir has three specimens of fubaea chilensis, of which the most thriving measures 23 × 10 ft (1972). It is believed to have been planted about 1900.



Other species in the genus

[No species article available]