Chamaedorea tuerckheimii (Dammer) Burret, Notizbl. Bot. Gart. Berlin-Dahlem 11: 766 (1933)

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Map uses TDWG level 3 distributions (
Guatemala present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Honduras present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Mexico Gulf present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Mexico Southwest present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
GUATEMALA. Alta Verapaz. MEXICO. Veracruz. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


  • C. tuerckheimii is one of the smallest palms known and certainly one of the most distinctive. It is exceedingly handsome because of its dwarf habit and striking leaves of unique form that are, perhaps, the smallest ofany palm. Initially, only the form from Guatemala was known. Tuerckheim collected it in the mountains near Coban and introduced it to Europe in the early 1900s. The species is extremely rare or localized in the wild; there are very few collections.
    When he named and described the species, Dammer (1904a) only mentioned one specimen, Tuerckheim 8603. Burret (1933a) mentioned an additional specimen collected several years later in 1907, Tuerckheim 11899, and material of this number at several herbaria (GH, L, U, US) is often identified as an isotype. However, it seems inappropriate to include the latter collection as type material since it was collected three years after Dammer described and named C. tuerckheimii and Dammer only mentioned Tuerckheim 8603 in the original article.
    According to Standley and Steyermark (1958), C. tuerckheimii frequently appeared in gardens and markets in Coban. Local peddlers, who apparently did not want to reveal its exact location, stated that it came from the tierra caliente or lowland forest. However, in 1990 we found it in the wild near Coban in rich, very wet, montane rain and cloud forest. Unfortunately, though, after much searching we en- countered only two plants, both sterile. Local collectors and plant peddlers have undoubtedly decimated wild populations over the years, and if C. tuerckheimii is still abundant in the Coban region, it must be so in very inaccessible areas. Today, nurseries in Coban will only infrequently offer a few plants for sale, reflecting its scarcity and/or inaccessibility in the wild.
    More recently, in the 1980s and early 1990s, collectors and hobbyists have turned their attention to C. tuerckheimii in Veracruz, Mexico. The species in Veracruz differs slightly from the form in Guatemala in the leaves being a mottled green, somewhat broader, not as strongly plicate, and with a green instead ofwhite margin. Like its Guatemalan counterpart, it is also rare in the wild, being very localized in the Catemaco region. Sadly however, unlike its Guatemalan counterpart, it is still more accessible and collectors and local peddlers have not hesitated to strip it from the forest in large numbers. Chamaedorea tuerckheimii is infrequently cultivated in California, Hawaii, Horida, and perhaps elsewhere. It has earned the name "potato-chip palm" because the leaves bear a resemblance to the ruffled style potato chips. Leaves are a bright, velvety green and strongly plicate, forming a handsome, rosettelike terminal crown.
    Chamaedorea tuerckheimii is susceptible to brown-tipping due to low humidity, cold temperatures, and highly mineralized water, although the Guatemalan form seems more sensitive. Also, it is very susceptible to infestations of mites. Both the Guatemalan and Mexican forms are attention-grabbers in the garden and would be effective as solitary accents or in mass plantings if the species is ever widely available. However, like many other attractive and endangered chamaedoreas, it remains to be seen ifnurseries in Guatemala and Mexico will have the foresight and resources to establish cultivated mother blocks to relieve the collecting pressure on the few remaining wild plants. Cultivated mother blocks for propagative purposes and strict forest preservation will be the only way to make C. tuerckheimii available to palm collectors and fanciers yet ensure its survival in the wild. Ifnot, C. tuerckheimii will eventually vanish from the annals of botany and horticulture, remaining only as a few dried specimens tucked away in herbaria.
    Krempin (1990, p. 96) illustrated what appears to be a species of Ptychosperma erroneously as C. tuerckheimii. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

Biology And Ecology

  • Wet forest on the Atlantic slope; 900-1,500 m elevation. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


  • Honors the collector of the type and many other Guatemalan palms, H. B. von Tuerckheim. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

Common Name

  • Potato-chip palm. Guonay - Mexico (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


    • Habit: solitary, erect or briefly decumbent, 0.3-1 m tall. Stem: 3-7 mm diam., creeping, buried in leaf litter, green, conspicuously ringed, internodes 0.6-1.2 cm long. Leaves: 7-12, erect-ascending to spreading, bifid, forming a rosettelike crown; sheath 5 cm long, very open, tubular only in lower 1/2, closely appressed, oblique apically, margin whitish or light green and longitudinally striate-nerved; petiole to 5 cm long or shorter, lightly grooved and green or gray-green above, rounded and green or gray-green below, lower margins of blades lightly decurrent along petiole to sheath; rachis 12-20 cm long, angled and green above, rounded and gray-green or green below with a pale or whitish band extending to sheath; blades 12-22 x 3.5-7.5 cm, cuneate-obovate or slightly elliptic, not bifid but entire or with a very small notch at otherwise rounded or obtuse apex, closely plicate, ± stiff, cuneate basally, velvety bluish green or mottled green above, paler below, margins toothed and whitish or green, 26-30 teeth per side, these 0.75-1.5 x 0.75-1.5 mm, 13-19 primary nerves on each side of rachis, a secondary nerve between each pair of primaries. Inflorescences: interfoliar, 10-20 cm long, erect-spreading; peduncles 6-10 cm long, slender, light green in flower, orange in fruit; bracts 4-5, slender, thin-papery, longitudinally striate-nerved, brownish in flower, uppermost largest and obliquely split on one side; rachis 2-9 cm long, greenish in flower, orange in fruit. Staminate with 7-16 rachillae, these to 5-6 cm long, 1.5 mm diam., spreading, whitish green. Pistillate spicate or sometimes forked, spreading; rachis or flower-bearing portion 5-6 cm long, ± rounded or slightly angled, 3-4 mm thick and green in flower, thicker and orange in fruit. Flowers: Staminate in loose spirals, 2 x 2.5-3 mm, strongly flattened-depressed-globose, whitish, slightly sunken in superficial elliptic depressions 1-1.5 mm long; calyx 0.75-1 x 1.5-2.5 mm, lobed, very light green to yellowish, membranous, brown-margined, sepals connate in basal 2/3, acute to rounded apically; petals 2 x 2 mm, strongly cupped, bilobed, connate basally, free apically, thick, fleshy; stamens 1.5 mm high, paired, one in each of 2 petal lobes, filaments 0.5 mm long, connate and adnate basally to pistillode, white to yellow-white, anthers 0.5 mm long, yellow; pistillode 1.5-2 x 1.5 mm high, pear-shaped, 3-lobed apically, whitish. Pistillate in moderate spirals, 1.75-2 x 3.5 mm, strongly flattened- depressed-globose, white, sunken in elliptic to rounded depressions 1-1.5 mm long; calyx 0.75-1.5 x 2.5 mm, deeply lobed, green to yellowish, brown-margined, sepals connate in basal 1/3, broadly rounded apically; petals 2 x 2 mm, connate and/or imbricate basally, imbricate or valvate nearly to apex where briefly free, corolla opening by a ± triangular opening, cup-shaped, slightly erect apically, thick, fleshy; pistil 1.25-1.5 x 1.5 mm, ± globose, light yellowish or white, styles short, stigma lobes separated, angled, elevated, strongly recurved. Fruits: 8.5-12 x 6-8.5 mm, ovoid to ellipsoid, black, occasionally with perianth adherent, epicarp thin, mesocarp slightly fleshy, mucilaginous, green, aromatic, endocarp membranous, nerved; seeds 7-9 x 4.5 mm, ovoid, brownish-red. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

    Materials Examined

    • GUATEMALA. Alta Verapaz: Hodel 1010 (AGUAT, BH); Tuerckheim 11899 (GH, L, U, US). MEXICO: Veracruz: Cedillo 171 (F). (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