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  • Writer's pictureAmy Christmas

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

Blue Latan Palm-Latania loddigesii

-4 things you may not know about this Kauai plant

Forest & Kim Starr, Starr Environmental

1. What is it? The Blue Latan Palm is a member of the Palm family and is a showy ornamental palm tree growing on a single grey trunk with a slightly swollen base. The diameter of the trunk is generally about 10" and has a ringed appearance from the old leaf scars. The leaves of this palm are quite large, blue-green, and palmate or fan-shaped, average 10-12' long. The stiff leaves are held aloft on 4-5' stems or petioles. This palm is often confused with the Bismark Palm which looks very similar, but with three distinguishing differences. Latan Palm has creamy colored wooly scales on the underside of leaves and the Bismark’s scales are more cinnamon in color. The hastula, which is the thickened part at the center base the leaf differs in shape with the Latan Palm having a triangular form and the Bismark Palm being more like an asymmetrical spoon shape. Lastly, the seeds of the Latan are enclosed in a sculpted shell, unlike those of the Bismark which are more smooth. The Blue Latan Palm is dioecious which means the male and female flowers are on separate plants with the male flower stalks being more smooth and without fruits along the branch like to female branch. This palm has a moderate to quick growth rate and can get as tall as 20-30' tall by 10-15' wide. It is tolerant of some cooler weather down to 25 degrees F, most soil types, salt spray, and can also be just about as happy in partial shade as it is in full sun. The fronds don’t generally fall off on their own making it a desirable for most landscape settings. It can also be grow in a pot indoors or out.

2. Where did it come from? The Latan is native to the Mauritius Island, off the coast of South Africa where it is endangered. In the US they are grown outdoors in southern Florida, southern California, Puerto Rico, Caribbean as well as Hawaii. It’s fruits are not edible. I didn't discover any specific native cultural uses for this plant, although Palms in general are terrific air purifiers. The Latan Palm was introduced to Hawaii sometime in the 1800's based on a publication I found touting seeds being harvested and sold in the early 1900's. The plant was also noted for its beauty by Joseph Rock, a University of Hawaii botanist in his 1920 publication Ornamental Plants of Hawaii.

3. When is the best time for collecting? We pick the inflorescence, which we call fruiting branches all year long as they are produced throughout the year. They have to be cut from the long branch with holds them and we generally wait for the male branches to be done flowering and the female branches at all different stages, both prior to being mature with fruit and with the fruit developed . They are air-dried and stored in open containers. They retain color and rigidity.

4. How are the collected plant parts used?

The palm leaves can be used in arrangements but they have not been something we have used. The fruiting branches offer unique texture and rich charcoal coloring. and are used as a sculptural and decorative element on baskets and pouches.

*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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