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  • Writer's pictureAmy Christmas

A Hawaii Artist discovers beauty and more in Island Sourced Materials!

Areca Palm, Golden Cane Palm-Dypsis lutescens

-4 things you may not know about this Kauai plant

Forest & Kim Starr, Starr Environmental

1. What is it? The Areca Palm has many common names and even a couple of different botanical names as well. It is a member of the Areca or Palm family. This family contains about 2600 species with most being what you think of as palm trees. There is evidence of the existence of palms found in fossils dating back 80+ million years. The Areca is a tropical or subtropical evergreen growing to a height of 20-39 feet, with a spread of 8-15 feet. This palm can be seen everywhere here in the islands as a cultivated ornamental. It loves the moist and part-full sun climate, is somewhat salt tolerant, growing in mostly lowlands. It has gained much notoriety as one of the most popular house plants in seasonal places around the globe. It is a multi-stemmed clumping palm with all stems emerging from the base of the plant. Its golden trunk is where one of its common names, Golden Cane Palm, is from. It is also called Butterfly Palm, because of the way the fronds are arched like a butterfly wings. The fronds can range in length from 6-1/2' to 10' in length and are pinnate with 60-70 pairs of lance shaped leaflets. The Golden Cane Palm has panicles or multi-branched flowers which are somewhat inconspicuous individually, but collectively are more ornate. The fruit is typically 3/4", yellow and like most palms is this family is collectively showy.

2. Where did it come from? The Golden Cane Palm is originally native to rainforests in Madagascar. It is thought to have been introduced to Hawaii in the 1950's as an ornamental. There is much research into medicinal uses for palm parts, but few have been found so far for the Areca. It does provide fruit for birds, and used as a natural indoor air purifier. I would imagine the palm sheaths could have been used for shelter because of their durability and I found that many of the palm sheathes are now being processed into disposable plates. The Areca Palm is known to be widely naturalized on several islands in the Indian Ocean, Philippines, South America, Cuba, Puerto Rico and other Carribean Islands as well as California and Florida.

3. When is the best time for collecting?

We collect the frond sheathes-which is what wraps around the trunk and holds the leaf onto the stem. We collect them regularly and soon after they have fallen off of the tree. Although palm fronds take a long time to breakdown naturally, they do loose their rich color, pliability, and integrity if left out in the elements for too long. We also collect the inflorescence which we call fruiting branches and the bracts or branch wrappers, which cover the developing flowers. All of these elements are fallen parts so usually considered trash so most collecting is welcomed by the property owner and considered a service! The Golden Cane Palm sheds all of these things pretty much all year, although, we have found in the winter months the palm seems to pause its fruiting and shedding processes a bit.

4. How are the collected plant parts used?

The palm frond sheath is the number one plant part essential to our business-without it, there would be no basket! Each one is unique in size and coloration and tend to range in color from golden to rust tones, browns, and even dark reds. The branch wrappers are used in their entirety as decorative elements on both baskets and pouches. The fruiting branches of the Golden Cane Palm have been used to mimic harvested sugarcane on our Kauai Mahi’ai (farmer) Angel ornament and on both baskets and pouches as decorations. We also discovered the branches, irritated by an insect when first developing, are quite ornamental and my husband fondly identifies them as the backscratchers.

*Amy is a University of Hawaii Certified Master Gardener Emeritus, has a Bachelor of Science-Landscape Horticulture degree from Ohio State, has been a volunteer tour guide at NTBG, and is a self-proclaimed "plant nut"! She and her husband Ron have been making and selling their baskets for more than 20 years.



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