Aiphanes grandis

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Aiphanes (ah-ee-FAHN-ehz)
grandis (GRAN-dihs)
Ecuador. Photo-AAU palm archive. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew/Palmweb.
Scientific Classification
Genus: Aiphanes (ah-ee-FAHN-ehz)
grandis (GRAN-dihs)
None set.
Native Continent
Habit: Solitary
Leaf type: Pinnate
Survivability index
Common names

Habitat and Distribution

Endemic. Found on the west-Andean slopes of Ecuador. It grows in premontane moist forest at 1000-2000 m. apparently most abundant around 1500 m.
Ecuador. Photo by Dr. Borchsenius F., edric.
It is at least sometimes left in cleared areas, where it seems unable to regenerate. Though geographically very restricted, it is often abundant on both its localities, but very local. (Borchsenius, F. and Bernal, R. 1996. Aiphanes (Palmae). Flora Neotropica 70. pp 1-95)/Palmweb.


It is a large, solitary palm tree, with a stem up to 20 m tall and 10–20 cm in diameter. The stem and leaves are fiercely armed with long, black spines. The leaf blade is 200–250 cm long with up to 50 leaflets on each side, briefly jagged at apex, inserted in groups and pointing in different directions. The inflorescence is 1–1.5 m long, with up to 200 spreading branches. Flowers are white to pale yellow and fruits 2–3 cm in diameter, dull green and covered with brown, loosely attached bristles. The combination of jagged leaflets and large size distinguishes the species from all other South American palms.

Solitary. Stem 10-21 m tall, to 17 cm diam., armed with black spines, often unarmed basally. Leaves 7-10, spirally arranged, spreading; sheath ?70 cm long, with a thick, white indument, densely armed with black, applanate spines, to 12 cm long; petiole <3 cm long; rachis 200-250 cm long, 3-4 cm wide at base, with an indument like that on the sheath, fiercely armed with black and yellow spinules and numerous applanate spines, to 4 cm long, fewer toward apex; pinnae inserted in groups of 5-8, these occupying 11 - 17 cm along the rachis, separated by 5-8 cm, pinnae multiranked, linear-Ianceolate, widest in the middle, 10-12 times as long as wide, obliquely praemorse at apex, ecaudate, adaxial side with a row of short, thin spinules on the midrib, otherwise glabrous, abaxial side minutely spinulose to almost glabrous, margins lined with white hairs and short spinules; basal pinnae 18-20 x 1-3 cm; middle pinnae 60-80 x 5.5-8 cm; apical pinnae 5-6 ribbed, 20-45 x 2-13 cm. Inflorescence erect at anthesis, pendulous in fruit; prophyll ca. 9 cm wide, woody, armed with black, 1-2 cm long spines; peduncular bract ca. 130 cm long, ca. 8 cm wide, woody, persistent, densely armed with black, 1-2 cm long spines; peduncle ca. 50 cm long, ca. 2 cm diam. at junction with rachis at anthesis, thicker in fruit, densely armed with black spines, ca. 1 cm long; rachis ca. 70 cm long, white at anthesis, with a thin white or later brown, caducous indument, unarmed; rachillae ca. 200, white at anthesis, with an indument as that on the rachis, unarmed; basal rachillae 30-50 cm long, without flowers on the basal 2-4 cm, with triads for ?1/3 of the length, in this part 4-5 mm diam., distally ca. 1 mm diam., with staminate dyads; apical rachillae I0-20 cm long, with triads for 1-4 cm, otherwise staminate; flower groups sunken into shallow cavities in the rachillae, subtended by a 1-2 mm tall bract. Staminate flowers 5-6 mm long, those of triads with a 2-4 mm long pedicel, those of dyads shortly pedicelled; sepals imbricate. ca. 3 x 1 mm; petals free, valvate, 5-6 x 3 mm; filaments ca. 2 mm long. anthers linear, sagittate at base, 3-4 x 1 mm; pistiIIode distinct, trifid, ca. 0.5 mm high . Pistillate flowers 6-9 mm long; sepals broadly imbricate. ca. 5 x 8 mm; petals connate for ½ of the length. 7-9 x 4-5 mm, lobes acute, slightly imbricate; staminodes acuminate, arranged in 2 rings of 3 each, episepalous ones 6-7 mm long, epipetalous ones 4-5 mm long, connate with episepalous ones for 2-4 mm; pistil 6-7 mm high, densely covered with pale, at anthesis black, ca. 1 mm long spinules. Fruit dull green, 20 - 23 mm diam. (dry), covered with ca. 1 mm long, black spinules, that easily fall off; mesocarp thin. <1 mm thick in dry fruits; endocarp globose, almost smooth (Borchsenius, F. and Bernal, R. 1996. Aiphanes (Palmae). Flora Neotropica 70. pp 1-95)/Palmweb.

Aiphanes grandis is easily distinguished by its up to 21 m tall, solitary stem; linear, grouped. multiranked pinnae; 6-7 mm long staminate flowers with linear anthers, and spinulose pistil and fruits. It resembles A. linearis in its linear, grouped pinnae, fierce armature, and spinulose pistil, but the latter differs in having basally thickened rachillae and fruits covered with golden spines; furthermore A. linearis is caespitose and has distichous leaves. Aiphanes grandis appears to be the most primitive species in the genus with respect to floral morphology; pistillate flowers have imbricate petals and incompletely connate staminodes. (Borchsenius, F. and Bernal, R. 1996. Aiphanes (Palmae). Flora Neotropica 70. pp 1-95)/Palmweb.


Cold Hardiness Zone: 9b

Comments and Curiosities

Uses: At higher altitudes, in areas with humid montane vegetation, we find Aiphanes grandis (chonta) between 1100 and 1700 m above sea level. This palm with very long black spines is endemic to Ecuador. The palm heart is eaten raw or cooked. The seeds can be made into a nougat – the fruits are boiled in water and the seeds then pureed and cooked with crude cane sugar until the mixture thickens. (Van den Eynden, V., E. Cueva, and O. Cabrera, Edible palms of Southern Ecuador. 2004 (as Aiphanes grandis Borchs. & Balslev)/Palmweb.

Conservation: Endangered. Habitat destruction is the main threat. Known from four isolated sub-populations located in the Ecuadorian provinces of Bolívar, El Oro, Loja and Pichincha. None of the known subpopulations are inside Ecuador’s protected areas network, but the species should be searched for in the Reserva Ecológica Los Ilinizas. (2003 IUCN Redlist)

External Links


Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.

Special thanks to Geoff Stein, (Palmbob) for his hundreds of photos.

Special thanks to, Dr. John Dransfield, Dr. Bill Baker & team, for their volumes of information and photos.

Glossary of Palm Terms; Based on the glossary in Dransfield, J., N.W. Uhl, C.B. Asmussen-Lange, W.J. Baker, M.M. Harley & C.E. Lewis. 2008. Genera Palmarum - Evolution and Classification of the Palms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. All images copyright of the artists and photographers (see images for credits).

Borchsenius F., Borgtoft-Pedersen H. and Baslev H. 1998. Manual to the Palms of Ecuador. AAU Reports 37. Department of Systematic Botany, University of Aarhus, Denmark in collaboration with Pontificia Universidad Catalica del Ecuador

Borchsenius, F. and Bernal, R. 1996. Aiphanes (Palmae). Flora Neotropica 70. pp 1-95

Many Special Thanks to Ed Vaile for his long hours of tireless editing and numerous contributions.

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