Chamaedorea brachyclada H.Wendl., Gartenflora 29: 101 (1880)

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PANAMA. Chiriqui. COSTA RICA. Puntarenas. San Jose. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


  • Zahn collected seeds of this palm in Chiriqui in Panama and sent them to the famous plantsman Veitch in Europe prior to 1880. Wendland (1880) then described and named C. brachyclada from a cultivated pistillate plant he had obtained from Veitch. It was apparently lost to cultivation until the 1960s when Robert G. Wilson established his garden at San Vito in Costa Rica near the Panamanian border. Wilson's garden included some native forest with populations of C. brachyclada. Moore (1971) noted it there as Chamaedorea sp. # 2. Wilson established and cultivated C. brachyclada in his garden and from these plants and wild plants in the adjacent forest he distributed seeds to fellow palm enthusiasts and botanical gardens. Through Wilson's efforts, collectors have grown C. brachyclada in California, Florida, and Hawaii since the late 1960s and early 1970s.?Although originally collected in Chiriqui, Panama, C. brachyclada is very rare there; in fact, I have seen only one collection of it from this area. Much of Chiriqui has been extensively deforested as have adjacent areas ofCosta Rica. Grayum and de Nevers (1988) noted that this species is clearly threatened and endangered since suitable habitat is extremely scarce. As recently as 1987, though, a healthy, reproducing population of this palm was existing in forest remnants next to Wilson's garden.?A very distinctive species, the stemless habit, few (3-4), erect, long-pinnate leaves, numerous and essentially straight pinnae with lower margins decurrent, long petioles, and basal, long-pedunculate, arcuate inflorescences with numerous, short rachillae easily distinguish C. brachyclada. The pistillate inflorescence somewhat resembles a bottle brush with its slender, sturdy peduncle terminating in numerous, short, densely placed, stiffrachillae. Individuals will often flower and fruit when less than a meter tall. In these cases, the dimensions ofthe plant parts are much reduced.
    Chamaedorea brachyclada forms a more or less natural group with C. scheryi, C. pygmaea, C. stenocarpa, and C. undulatifolia (Hodel and Uhl 1990b). They all share the virtually stemless habit, pinnae with lower margins decurrent, long-pedunculate inflorescences arising from the base, and pinnate eophylls. In addition, they usually occur at middle elevations in wet or cloud forest situations.?Chamaedorea brachyclada is difficult to cultivate, even in tropical locales. It does best in a moderate or slightly cool tropical climate. C. brachyclada appears to be particularly sensitive to low humidity. In California, leaves tend to yellow- and brown-tip due to the low humidity and high mineral content of the water. In these situations, the crown is often much reduced, being composed of only 2-3 leaves, and the plants take on a rather poor appearance. In addition, it is very susceptible to infestations ofmites and thrips in cultivation, especially in areas with low relative humidity. Because ofits pinnate eophyll, it is attractive even as a 1-2 leaf seedling.? (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

Biology And Ecology

  • Moist or wet forest on the Pacific slope; 1,000-1,400 m elevation. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


  • From the Greek brachy meaning short and cladus meaning shoot, in reference to the very short stem or nearly stemless habit. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


  • Habit: solitary, erect, appearing stemless, to 2.5 m tall. Stem: 2-3 cm diam., buried and creeping in leaf litter, closely and prominently ringed, internodes to 5-10 mm long. Leaves: 3, erect, pinnate, 1-2 m long; sheath to 35 cm long, obliquely open and splitting deeply opposite petiole, clasping in a tubular manner only briefly near base, dark green; petiole 40-80 cm long, erect, slightly flattened and green above or grooved only near base, rounded and dark green below; rachis sharply angled and green above, rounded and green below, rachis and petiole with a covering of minute, rough, white, glistening spots especially at rachis-petiole junction; pinnae 20-30 on each side of rachis, largest to 30 x 2-3 cm, linear-lanceolate, ± straight but conspicuously falcate, acuminate, lower margin decurrent on rachis, dark green, 5-nerved with underside fairly rough. Inflorescences: infrafoliar, long-pedunculate, arcuate, often appearing to rise from litter offorest floor; peduncles to 60 cm long, I cm wide at base, 5-7 mm diam. at apex, green and ± rounded in flower, reddish orange in fruit; bracts 5-9, prophyll to 2 cm long, 2nd bract 2 cm, 3rd 3 cm, 4th 6 cm, 5th 10 cm, 16th 12-15 cm, 7th, 8th, and 9th 15-20 cm, tubular, brown in flower, ± papery, longitudinally striate-nerved, acute-acuminate, bifid; rachises 10-12 cm long, green in flower, reddish orange in fruit. Staminate with 40-50 rachillae, lowermost longest, these to 10 cm long, uppermostshortest, to 5 cm long, 0.5 mm diam., perpendicular to rachis, spreading, slender, filiform, green. Pistillate bottle-brushlike, rachillae 60-100, these 3-5 cm long, filiform, 0.5 mm diam., flexuous but ± stiff, simple or sometimes forked, 4-7-flowered, green in flower, reddish orange in fruit. Flowers: Staminate in loose spirals, 3-3.5 x 2 mm, ovoid, green, slightly sunken; calyx 1 x 1.5 mm, shallowly lobed, sepals connate in basal 213, broadly rounded and brown-margined apically; petals 3 x 1.5-2 mm, ovate, valvate, connate in basal 2/3, free, acute and slightly recurved apically, thickened and lighter green medially on inside; stamens 2 mm high, filaments yellowish, anthers yellow, 1.5 mm long; pistillode 2mmhigh, columnar, yellowish. Pistillate in remote spirals, 3 x 2 mm, ovoid-globose, yellowgreen, ± superficial; calyx I x 1.5-2 mm, deeply lobed, sepals sharply rounded and dark-margined apically; petals 3-3.5 x 2 mm, oval, imbricate nearly to apex and there free, erect; pistil 2 x 2 mm, globose, slightly 3-angled, dark green, styles short or lacking, stigma lobes slender, recurved, pointed, whitish, well below petal tips. Fruits: 3-5 mm diam., globose, black; seeds 2-4 mm diam., globose; eophyll pinnate. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

Materials Examined

  • COSTA RICA. San Jose: Chavarria 107 (CR). Puntarenas: Grayum 3351,3352,3365,9280 (MO); Hode1705A, 705B (BH, CR); Maas 1387 (F, U). PANAMA. Chiriqui: Croat 15904 (MO). (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.