Rare flowering of talipot palm at Botanic Gardens

This blooming talipot palm is in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Port of Spain. - Photo by Roger Jacob
This blooming talipot palm is in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Port of Spain. - Photo by Roger Jacob

People who frequently drive or walk around the Queen's Park Savannah have a chance to see a once-in-a-lifetime sight of a flowering talipot palm in the Botanic Gardens.

The bright yellow-green blooms tower above the other trees.

The talipot palm's blooming is a rare and remarkable event, marking the end of its life cycle in a burst of colour and vitality, according to horticulturists.

It is also known as the century palm, a giant palm tree, which flowers and bears fruit only once in its lifetime before it dies, a phenomenon is known as monocarpy. Its scientific name is Corypha umbraculifera L. The talipot is classed as a fan palm.

In an interview with Newsday, Dr Linton Arneaud, a lecturer in plant science at UWI and vice-president of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists Club, said, “Corypha means top. Umbraculifera means umbrella (carrying). So it’s speculated that the name is referring to the flower to the top, and the fronds (branches) are in the shape of an umbrella.”

The talipot bears its flowers and fruit after reaching the age of majority, any time between 25 and 80 years old. It is native to southern India and Sri Lanka. It can also be found in Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and the Andaman Islands.

Its single cylindrical trunk typically bears leaf scars from fallen leaves as the plant grows. The trunk, which can grow up to 25 metres in height, supports a heavy crown of leaves, each of which can grow up to six metres wide and two metres long, topped by the largest inflorescence (the cluster of flowers on a branch or system of branches).

After flowering, the talipot palm bears thousands of yellow-green fruit before dying. - Photo by Roger Jacob

The leaves, historically known as ola leaves, are durable and can be used as paper and thatch for house roofs, as well as natural umbrellas.

“It’s also not uncommon that arborescent palms (palms that look like trees), the stems of the plant can be used to make alcohol,” said Arneaud.

The palm is one of 72 species of exotic palms locally recently published in a photo field guide, Exotic Palms of TT, by the Field Naturalists Club.

The palm, which bears “hundreds of thousands of flowers” is a sight to behold, said Arneaud.

Witnessing the beautiful blooms is a bittersweet moment, as the palm uses all of its energy stores to bear hundreds of yellow-green, golf-ball-sized fruit. Each fruit contains a single seed.

The seeds, in ideal conditions, can take up to a year to mature before the tree dies.

There are other talipot palms locally: one at Evans Street, Curepe near the boundary of the UWI St Augustine campus, another at a family home in San Juan and a few in south Trinidad.

Regionally, the talipot can be found at the Palacio Nacional – the Office of the President  – in Santo Domingo, and over 20 grow at the Hope Gardens in Jamaica.

The blooms can be viewed at the Royal Botanic Garden in Port of Spain between 6 am and 6 pm daily.


"Rare flowering of talipot palm at Botanic Gardens"

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