This weekend millions of Christians worldwide will be celebrating Palm Sunday and using thousands of palm leaves in the process.
But what is a palm?
- Palms are genetically more closely related to grasses than an oak tree.
- Palms are a group of plants with around 2585 species found across the world.
- Palms can be classified in both the Arecaceae and Palmae families interchangeably.
- The only continent that doesn’t have any palms is Antarctica.
What is the state of the world’s palms?
- 20% of the world’s palms are currently listed on the IUCN Red List with 106 assessed as Critically Endangered and 96 Endangered.
- 82% of Madagascar’s endemic palms are considered threatened by the IUCN.
- Among the threats to these palms: habitat destruction, overexploitation and fire.
What are palms used for?
- 50 million tons of palm oil is produced every year. Palm oil is found in lipstick, shampoo and foods such as margarine and ice-cream. Often tropical forest is cleared to make way for oil palm plantations.
- Palms are the source of many commercial products such as building materials, wine, oils and waxes as well as foods such as dates and coconuts.
- Palms are often grown ornamentally worldwide, although they can be very expensive to buy. In the US there have even been problems with ‘palm rustling’, people stealing palm trees worth $20,000 each from the side of the road (read more here)
- Palm leaves symbolise victory in Christianity and palms were used by the Romans to reward the winners of games and those that returned from war.
Some of our favourite threatened palms
The loneliest palm
One of the world’s most threatened palms is Hyophorbe amaricaulis. Only one individual survives in the Curepipe Botanic Gardens on Mauritius where it has lived for over 50 years. It fruits and flowers every year but it never produces viable seeds as its male and female flowers open out of sync.
The tallest palm
The Quindío wax palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense) is a Critically Endangered endemic palm of Colombia. Every year thousands of its leaves were used as part of the Palm Sunday celebrations. A ban was introduced to prevent this overexploitation of the tree and protect the species from extinction.
The desert palm
The Argoun Palm is a Critically Endangered palm which lives in the Nubian Desert in oases. It was commonly left in Egyptian tombs in the time of the Pharaohs as an offering for the afterlife.
Edit: Updated on 28/03/2015. Arecaceae and Palmae family names can be used interchangeably. Palms are genetically closely related to grasses, however they are not classified as giant grasses as suggested by some sources.