Phytelephas seemannii

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Phytelephas (fy-TEHL-leh-fahs)
seemannii (see-mahn'-nee)
Fairchild Tropical Garden, Florida. Unbranched inflorescence. Photo by Dr. William J. Baker, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew/Palmweb.
Scientific Classification
Genus: Phytelephas (fy-TEHL-leh-fahs)
seemannii (see-mahn'-nee)
None set.
Native Continent
Habit: Solitary
Leaf type: Pinnate
Survivability index
Common names
Anta (Quechua); sam (Cuna). Sagú, Tagua, Palma de marfil, Marfil vegetal, Ivory palm, Ivory-nut palm, Cabeza de negra, Anta, Cabeza de negro.

Habitat and Distribution

Colombia, Panamá.
Photo by Paul Craft


Solitary rosette palm, with prostrate subterranean part of stem and aerial part wanting, or mid-sized palm tree with decumbent, or erect stem up to 4 m tall. Leaves 10-15, semierect to erect, evenly bending from base to apex; leaf sheath split to the base; leaf 60-100 cm long from point of insertion to blade; petiole 4—5 cm wide distally, deeply rounded abaxially, with shallow, sharply edged groove adaxially, or semiterete in cross-section, green on the adaxial face often with a drab-colored waxy covering tapering into a point below the rachis; rachis 350-550 cm long, green, with median ridge adaxially raising gradually from the distal end of the petiole, often with brown tomentum along the median adaxial ridge and the lateral faces bearing the pinnae; pinnae 75-110 per side, often drying to lustrous pale green, midnerve prominent, submarginal veins indistinct, transverse commissures often conspicuous; basal pinnae alternate, 30-60 x 0.3-0.5 cm, 1-3 cm apart or remote and pendent on long petiolate individuals, middle pinnae subalternate, 55-80 x 3.4-4.5 cm, 4-7 cm apart, distal pinnae opposite, 15-25 x 0.8-1 cm, 3-4 cm apart. Staminate peduncle 60-80 cm long, glabrous, compressed, 3.5-5 x 2-2.5 cm in cross-section in the middle part; prophyll 35-65 x 7-10 cm; first peduncular bract inserted 25-35 cm above the peduncle base, 40-55 cm long, bicarinate distally, outside light brown, inside brownish-orange; incomplete peduncular bracts 3-5, oblique, deltoid or elliptic with attenuated base, plicated basally, the proximal one 4—6 cm long; rachis 50-110 cm, compressed, 2x3 cm in cross-section in the middle part; flowers sessile, closely inserted in groups of 4 (-5), or fewer proximally on rachis, distal flowers solitary; receptacle covered by masses of 300-600 stamens, expanded in width and flattened, slightly raised, rounded in outline at early anthesis, later extending to ovate or fusiform, 1.5-2 x 1-1.5 cm; perianth fused basally to receptacle and elongated forming a narrow shiny zone, only tips of the perianth segments free; filament 6-12 x 0.2 mm, subulate; anther 2-6 X 0.4-0.6 mm, shortly apiculate. Pistillate peduncle 15-25 cm long, compressed, 1.5-2.5 x 2-3.5 cm in cross-section in the middle part; prophyll 25-35 x 5-7 cm, smooth, drab-colored; first peduncular bract inserted 10-17 cm above the base, 20-30 cm long; incomplete peduncular bract 5-7, spirally arranged and covering 1.5-2.5 cm of peduncle below the bracts subtending flowers, 3-8 x 1.5-2 cm, obliquely ovate to deltoid, the proximal one with short acumen, the others increasingly narrow towards the bracts subtending flowers; flower-bearing zone 1-2 cm long, with 5-8 flowers; floral subtending bracts deltoid 3-5 x 1-1.5 cm, with long acumen; sepa-loid bracts 6-7, 4—6 cm long, narrowly deltoid with long acumen to strap shaped; tepals 6-7, 15-18 cm long, 1-1.5 cm wide basally; non-functional stamens 25-35, 10-25 mm long; anther 6-9 mm long, obliquely sagitate basally, apiculum usually absent; pistil obliquely pyri-form, bulky, smooth, with 6-9 locules; style 11-13 cm long; stigmas 5-6, 5-7 cm long. Infructescences usually numerous, up to 25 on one palm, 17-25 cm in diam.; peduncle 20-30 cm long, 3-4 x 1-2 cm in cross-section in the middle part; prophyll and first peduncular bract 10-15 cm apart, partly resolved; incomplete peduncular bracts with persistent base or caducous; fruit-bearing zone 2-3 cm long, fruits 4—8, perianth early caducous; fruits 6-10 cm long, tangential face rounded in outline, 12-16 cm in diam., flat with central depression, with spiny processes of variable length from 0.5 to 2.5 cm, style residuals usually absent, abscission scar to 3.5 cm in diam.; inner mesocarp thin, with network of flattened fibres adherent to pyrene and exposed upon drying; seeds 6-9 in fully developed fruits; pyrenes rounded with blunt edges; rostrum absent or short; umbo basally on median blunt ridge, occasionally raised considerably, flattened or ridged, ovate in outline with the narrow end pointing up or upper margin emarginate. Seedling robust with three scale leaves, of which two are usually exposed above the ground; eophyll with 32-36 opposite pinnae. (Barfod, A. 1991)/Palmweb. Editing by edric.

Typification: Based on P. macrocarpa in Seemann's "The Botany of the Voyage of H. M. S. Herald" (1852-1857). Seeman observed it along the pacific shore of Darien in Panama and the Northern part of Choco in Colombia. He collected it in the bay of Cupica and one of his sheets, kept at the British Museum (BM), is designated lectotype. (Barfod, A. 1991)/Palmweb.


A plant from the warm tropics, though it can tolerate occasional short-lived temperatures down to around freezing. Prefers a moist soil and a warm, sheltered position. Seed - it can take 3 - 4 years to germinate. A slow-growing plant, it can take from 7 - 25 years from a young seedling before it starts to produce fruit. t can tolerate occasional short-lived temperatures down to around freezing. Cold Hardiness zone: 10A

Comments and Curiosities

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).

Barfod, A. 1991. A monographic study of the subfamily Phytelephantoideae (Arecaceae). Opera Botanica 105: 1-73.

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

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