Chamaedorea radicalis Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 3: 308 (1849)

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Map uses TDWG level 3 distributions (
Mexico Northeast present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
MEXICO. Hidalgo. Nuevo Leon. San Luis Potosi. Tamaulipas. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


  • Martius (1849) described and named C. radicalis from material collected by Wilhelm Karwinski on the Atlantic slope ofthe Sierra Madre Oriental in Mexico between 21 and 22 degrees north latitude. It was cultivated as C. pringlei at Kew Gardens in London, England as early as 1900. Watson (1891) named and described C. pringlei from material that Pringle had collected. Watson cited as the type Pringle 3527, a specimen which I have not been able to locate. Perhaps the number is a misprint; one specimen, 3537, that differs in just one digit is at the Gray Herbarium while other specimens, 3737, that differ in two digits are at several herbaria (C, F, GH, GOET, M, S, US, VT).
    The northernmost-occurring member of the genus, C. radicalis is found up to 1,000 m elevation on limestone outcroppings in oak forests. Moore (1957) reported that he observed it growing in mountain regions of eastern Mexico in the shade of oaks in Tamaulipas and Hidalgo. With the combination of high latitude and elevation, it is not surprising that C. radicalis is a remarkably cold-hardy palm. In fact, it is the hardiest species of the genus and can withstand - 5° to -7°C (19-23°F) without displaying any leafdamage. Leafdamage may occur at temperatures below this with death of the plant probably not resulting until even lower temperatures are experienced. Although normally solitary, there are reports of the stem being clustered (Martius 1849, Oersted 1859, Moore 1957, 1976). I have not observed this in cultivation and perhaps these reports may be attributed to several plants growing adjacent to each other or the emergent basal inflorescences which are not unlike a newly arising vegetative shoot.
    A peculiar feature of this species is the "heel", the "saxophone" type of growth of the stem, that is evident on many individuals, a phenomenon shared with a few other palms (Tomlinson 1990), notably fan palms like Sabal. It appears to be a mechanism for secure anchorage and better survival in a rocky or otherwise harsh substrate. The "heel" appears to be a portion of the abbreviated stem, often with roots, that arises from and then submerges into the soil before arising again a few centimeters distant. The leaf bases and leaves appear to be arising directly out of the ground; in fact, basal portions of the leaf sheaths are actually below ground level. Inflorescences arise from behind these leafsheaths and from below the ground.
    With regard to the stem, there are two forms in cultivation. One is a stemless while the other has a well developed, erect, aboveground stem. The former seems to remain stemless all its life or at least for many years, and is very effective in a mass planting under trees or in shady locations. Although the stemless form is not the most elegant member of the genus, it is handsome in its own right with its stiffly ascending leaves and long-pedunculate inflorescences heavily laden with showy red fruits. Surprisingly, it is very tolerant ofdirect sun. Some specimens at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California show only slight yellowing although they occur in nearly full sun.
    The form with an aboveground stem is less common in cultivation and becomes an elegant palm with age, having stems several meters in height and displaying to best advantage the arching inflorescences laden with great clusters of red fruits.?Krempin (1990, p. 95) illustrated C. elegans but erroneously captioned the photograph as C. radicalis. A distinctive member of the genus and relatively easy to grow, C. radicalis is very tolerant of low light and is resistant to mites and nematodes. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

Biology And Ecology

  • Moist, oak forest; to 1,000 m elevation; often on limestone. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


  • From the Latin radicalis meaning basal or arising from the root stock, in reference to the inflorescences or the apparently stemless habit. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


  • Habit: solitary (rarely cespitose?), erect, slender, appearing stemless or eventually to 3-4 m tall. Stem: 2.5-3 cm diam., short, curved, subterranean and then with congested nodes, or sometimes aboveground, elongate, then green, smooth, ringed, internodes to 15 cm long. Leaves: 4-8, erect-spreading, pinnate; sheath 15-25 cm long, thick, leathery, fibrous, light green, drying hard and durable, obliquely and rather long-open apically, tubular only in lower 1/2, light green, brown-margined, below this whitish and green-striate- nerved; petiole 15-30 cm long, obtusely 3-sided, grooved and light green above, rounded and light green below; rachis to 60-70 cm long or more, triangular, sharply angled and green above, rounded and lighter green below; pinnae 10-18 or more on each side of rachis, to 40 cm x 1-2.5 cm, terminal ones often wider, straight, linear-Ianceolate, acuminate, slightly falcate, dark green, whitish callus at point of attachment to rachis above, alternate or subopposite, spreading, ± stiff, sometimes slightly drooping with age, ± thick, rough and raspy texture, a central midrib, 23 lateral primary nerves on each side above, these somewhat obscured and none prominent, midrib prominent below, secondaries and tertiaries numerous, faint. Inflorescences: interfoliar, erect, long-pedunculate, if plant stemless often appearing to arise from base, ifaboveground stem present then often infrafoliar in fruit; peduncles to 1 m long, equalling or exceeding leaves, to 1 cm wide, 7-8 mm thick, ± flattened, green in flower and fruit; bracts 6-10, prophyll to 5 cm, 2nd bract to 12 cm, 3rd to 20 cm, 4th to 26 cm, 5th, 6th, and 7th to 30 cm, 8th to 26 em, 9th to 17 cm, uppermost exceeding peduncle and extending onto rachis and often concealing a small rudimentary bract, tubular, acuminate, obliquely longopen apically, often bifid, green at anthesis becoming brown with age, papery-fibrous, longitudinally striate-nerved. Staminate with rachis 5-15 cm long, flattened, green; rachillae 8-20, these 25-30 cm long, 3mm diam., spreading, mostly simple but sometimes lower ones branched once or twice, green, minutely white-spotted. Pistillate spicate, furcate, or with up to 10 rachillae; if branched rachis 4-10 cm long, erect and green in flower, spreading and green in fruit; flower-bearing portion or rachillae 20-25 cm long, 4-6 mm diam., obscurely angled, erect but becoming pendulous or spreading when heavily laden with fruits, green, minutely whitespotted. Flowers: Staminate solitary distally, in ± linear groups of 2-5 basally, groups ± in spirals, 3 x 4 mm, subglobose, greenish; calyx 1-2 x 3 mm, deeply lobed, green becoming brown, sepals briefly imbricate basally, broadly rounded apically; petals 3 x 3 mm, broadly triangular, acute, valvate, erect, green and minutely white-spotted, stamens equalling or slightly exceeding petals, filaments stout, 2.5 x 0.75-1 mm, yellow, anthers 1 mm long, white; pistillode ± equalling stamens and petals, columnar, slightly enlarged apically, greenish. Pistillate solitary, in ± dense spirals, 3 x 3 mm, broadly conic, green; calyx 1.25-2 x 2.5-3 mm, nearly equalling petals, deeply lobed, green with brown margins, sepals free nearly to base, rounded apically, petals 2-2.5 x 2.5-3 mm, 1/3-1/2 as high as and tight against pistil, broadly triangular, imbricate in basal 3/4, acute; pistil 3.5 x 3 mm, subglobose or depressed-conical, green, minutely white-spotted, stigma lobes sessile, short, blunt, erect, dark. Fruits: 12 x 9 mm, ellipsoid to obovoid-globose, green changing to yellow then orange and finally red with a glaucous bloom when completely ripe. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

Materials Examined

  • MEXICO. Hidalgo: Moore 5035 (BH, MICH). Nuevo Leon: Meyer 2590 (BH). San Luis Potosi: Four nier lI19, lI63 (P); McVaugh 10438 (MICH); Pringle 3737 (C, F, GH, GOET, M, S, US, VT). Tamaulipas: Dressler 2022 (GH); Moore 6156 (BH); Reznicek 8430 (WIS); Stanford 2080 (CAS, U). (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


    A. Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.
    B. World Checklist of Arecaceae