The magnificent Royal Palm

Know your Islands

Royal Palm

Royal Palm (Roysto-nea regia)

Roystonea or Royal Palm is a genus of 10 to 12 species of palms, native to tropical regions of Florida, the Caribbean, and the adjacent coasts of Central and South America.

They are single-stemmed trees with a trunk which may be thickened either at the base or the central portion, depending on the species.

While walking the Mastic Trail, look for stands of this magnificent tree.

The following is taken from Wild Trees in the Cayman Islands by Fred Burton, with illustrations by Penny Clifford; Photograph by Frank Roulstone.

Royal Palm (Roystonea regia)

This magnificent palm is familiar as a landscape tree in western Grand Cayman, but it grows wild in undisturbed woodlands in Grand Cayman’s eastern districts. There it rises high above the woodland canopy, growing to about 80ft tall. Traditionally in Cayman this tree has also been known as the ‘Cabbage Palm.’

The upper half of the trunk is lightly banded with scars left by the falling leaves: lower down the outer surface of the trunk is lost, to reveal the densely packed vertical fibres beneath. The diameter of the trunk varies with height, the growing tip of the palm possibly producing a thicker trunk during years with heavy rainfall, and a thinner one in times of drought.

The smooth green sheaths of the huge leaves encase the top. In the wild, Royal Palm trunks are covered with lichens of all kinds, typically pale greens and greys, with liberal patches of pinkish orange.

The ground beneath the tree is usually a tangled mass of fallen leaves, and when the tree has ripe fruit, it becomes carpeted with the bright red berries. The seeds sprout readily if fresh.

In Grand Cayman, this palm grows in seasonally flooded woodlands and thickets, doing best where there is plenty of fresh water just below the ground surface: for this reason it is often found close to the edges of Buttonwood wetlands. Royal Palms are also native to Cuba and Florida, where they may grow at higher elevations.

When Royal Palms die, the trunk remains standing for several years, and rots from the core outward. This makes excellent nesting opportunities for woodpeckers, which bore holes in the sides, and parrots which enlarge a cavity down from the broken top.

Sadly such conspicuous dead palm trunks are easy targets for irresponsible nest robbers, who hack down the whole trunk in the hope of recovering live parrot chicks, to sell illegally as pets.

Grow Cayman Plants and encourage Cayman Wildlife! For more information, to share your knowledge or if you would like to get involved with the many activities in the National Trust’s Know Your Islands Program, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky, or call 949-0121.The weekly column from the National Trust is submitted by Marnie Laing, Education Programs Manager at the Trust.

Last week’s answer: The bird on the Cayman penny is the Grand Cayman Thrush (Turdus ravidus), now extinct. The last specimens were collected (by Brown) in 1916, and the last sight record (by Lewis) was in 1938.

Trivia question: What does the hawksbill sea turtle eat?

Look for the answer in next week’s feature!

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