Chamaedorea cataractarum Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 3: 309 (1849)

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Map uses TDWG level 3 distributions (
Hawaiipresent (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Mexico Southeastpresent (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Mexico Southwestpresent (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B


  • Liebmann probably introduced C. cataractarum to Europe in the 1840s. He collected it during his travels in Mexico along streams and cataracts near Jocotepec in Oaxaca. Later, Martius (1849) formally described and named the species. A few years later Wendland (1853b) described and named C. martiana from material that Linden had introduced to European gardens from Chiapas, Mexico. Wendland (1854) reported C. martiana growing in several gardens in Europe while Guillaumin (1923b) stated that it had been growing at the Musee de Paris since 1850 from Linden's introduction. I treated C. martiana as a synonym of C. cataractarum in an earlier paper (Hodel 1990d).
    In horticulture, C. cataractarum has been confused with C. atrovirens. In 19th-century Europe, this latter name was erroneously applied to material of C. cataractarum and, in many instances, this is still the case today in Florida, California, Hawaii, and Australia. Krempin (1990, p. 89) discussed and illustrated C. atrovirens but the description and photograph depict C. cataractarum. On the other hand, some material grown as C. cataractarum is actually C. oreophila.
    Chamaedorea cataractarum is unusual in its habitat and habit. One ofthe few rheophytes in the palm family, it inhabits the banks of rivers and streams of the Atlantic slope of Mexico in the states of Oaxaca, Tabasco, and Chiapas, occurring in or near water and being wholly or partially submerged during heavy rains and floods. It was originally found near waterfalls and cataracts, hence the specific epithet. In Chiapas, I observed large clumps several meters across growing along the banks of streams or small rivers. These clumps, like giant bull rushes, tended to capture and trap debris during times of high water. The debris line on the clumps of the palms was an indication of how high the water had risen.
    Chamaedorea cataractarum is also unusual in its branching pattern. With age, plants tend to creep along the ground anq over rocks with their horizontal stems branching in a dichotomous manner. Fisher (1974) provided a thorough and well illustrated account of this stem form. This dichotomous branching habit results in thick clumps with a sturdy network ofthick, horizontal stems which grow along the ground, anchoring the clump securely. Along with flexible leaves and leaflets that tend to bend and sway with an opposing force, the creeping and securely anchored stem enables C. cataractarum to grow and survive in and along streams where it is occasionally inundated by swiftly moving water.?Chamaedorea cataractarum is cultivated in Hawaii, California, Florida, Venezuela, and Australia. In the United States, it is grown commercially from locally produced seeds or seeds imported from Mexico. It has gained popularity dramatically in recent years and has appeared in the indoor potted plant trade. In California, it appears to be susceptible to mites and brown tipping of leaflets due to low humidity and water with high mineral content. It grows well in Hawaii and Florida where it makes an attractive, informal border or hedge for a partially sunny location. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

Biology And Ecology

Common Name



  • Habit: cespitose, creeping, appearing stemless, forming dense clumps to 2 x 3 m. Stems: 2-4 cm diam., dichotomously branched, horizontal, green, nodes prominent, congested, internodes less than cm long. Leaves: 4-5, erect-arching, pinnate, to 2 m long; sheath very open, tubular only at base, green; petiole to 30 cm long or more, channeled and green above, pale and rounded below, very flexible; rachis to I m long or more, obtusely angled and green above, rounded and pale below; pinnae 13-20 on each side of rachis, to 30 x 2.5 cm, linear-Ianceolate, straight, briefly decurrent basally, regularly spaced, alternate, drying plicate, acute, departing rachis at an angle like a venetian blind, arching but tips ± drooping, a prominent midrib and I prominent primary nerve on each side of this. Inflorescences: interfoliar or sometimes infrafoliar in fruit, erect, appearing to arise from soil or leaf litter; peduncles 50-70 cm long, ± rounded or slightly flattened, 7 mm wide, green in flower, orange in fruit; bracts 6-7, prophyll not seen, 2nd bract 10 cm long, 3rd 15 cm, 4th 18 cm, 5th 28 cm, 6th 20 cm, tubular basally, ± inflated apically, papery-fibrous, green in flower but persistent and becoming brown and tattered in fruit, longitudinally striate-nerved, uppermost exceeding peduncle and often concealing a small rudimentary one to 5 cm long. Staminate with rachis 3-8 cm long, green; rachillae 6-15, these 7-12 cm long, drooping. Pistillate with rachis 7 cm long, rounded or angled, green in flower, red-orange in fruit; rashillae 10 or rarely spicate, to 15 cm long, 3-4 mm diam., erect, ± stiff, greenish in flower, orange in fruit. Flowers: Staminate in 4 dense spirals, contiguous in bud, 2 x 2.5-3 mm, depressed-globose, angled by mutual pressure, yellowish tinged with green apically; calyx low, ringlike, scarcely lobed, pale, sepals connate nearly to apex, rounded; petals 2 x 2.5 mm, broadly ovate, slightly cupped, connate basally, valvate apically, rounded to straight apically; stamens just shorter than petals, filaments prominent, anthers 0.5 mm long; pistillodejust shorter than or equalling stamens, columnar, briefly 3-cleft. Pistillate close but not contiguous in bud, 2.5 x 3 mm, hemispherical or very depressed-globose, yellowish, slightly sunken in elliptic depressions 2-2.5 mm long; calyx 0.3-0.5 x 3 mm, ringlike, scarcely lobed, barely visible, sepals broadly rounded apically; petals 2-3 x 4 mm, broadly triangular, imbricate nearly to apex, cupped, straight to broadly rounded apically; pistil 2 x 3 mm, depressed-globose, light yellow, styles very short or lacking, stigma lobes short but exserted well beyond petals, pointed, recurved. Fruits: 10 x 6-8 mm, ovoid-oblong, green changing to dark brown then black with glaucous bloom at maturity. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

Materials Examined