Chamaedorea costaricana Oerst., Vidensk. Meddel. Naturhist. Foren. Kjøbenhavn 1858: 19 (1859)

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Map uses TDWG level 3 distributions (
Costa Rica present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
El Salvador present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Guatemala present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Honduras present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Mexico Southeast present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Nicaragua present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Panamá present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
COSTA RICA. Alajuela. Cartago. Guanacaste. Heredia. Puntarenas. San Jose. PANAMA. Chiriqui. Code. Herrera. Los Santos. Veraguas. HONDURAS. Santa Rosa. NICARAGUA. Chontales. Granada. Jinotega. Madruz. Managua. Matagalpa. COLOMBIA? (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


  • Oersted (1859) described and named C. costaricana from material he collected in mountain forests about 1,000-1,500 m elevation near Turrialba, Costa Rica during his travels in Central America in the middle of the 19th century. Today, the native forest in this area is virtually gone, having been destroyed long ago for agricultural purposes. A few stands of C. costaricana still exist, though, not far from Turrialba in forest remnants on the slope ofVolcan Barva; we collected it in 1990 near Turrialba on the road to Moravia de Chirripo. Chamaedorea costaricana is a most variable species throughout its rather wide range. Different have been proposed based principally on size and number of parts and prominence of nerves of the pinnae. The description attempts to account for the extremes in size of stems, leaves, pinnae, and inflorescences. Guillaumin (1922) described and named C. biolleyi from material cultivated at the Musee de Paris since 1900 from seeds that Biolley had sent from Costa Rica. Later, Bailey (1943a) described and? named several species of Chamaedorea from Panama that were collected by various members ofthe Missouri Botanical Garden in support of the Flora ofPanama. Two of these, C. linearia and C. seibertii, were of interest since their descriptions depicted plants close to C. costaricana although the names have not been applied to material in cultivation.
    In 1987 and 1990,.1 had the opportunity to visit various localities in Costa Rica and Panama and to observe C. costaricana in the wild and in cultivation. In Panama I visited the type localities of C. linearia and C. seibertii. In each location I made collections that corresponded well with Bailey's descriptions of these species. Comparison of these with Bailey's types, Oersted's type ofC. costaricana, Guillaumin's type ofC. biolleyi, and with various other collections from Panama to Honduras show that, essentiallY, the differences are of size only.
    Chamaedorea costaricana is widespread and well represented by collections throughout its range. Galeano and Bernal (1987) reported C. linearia from Colombia although they stated it is single-stemmed and did not mention the ligules at the apex of the leaf sheath. Moore (1975) reported it from Monteverde in northwestern Costa Rica as Chamaedorea sp. # 2. I have also collected C. costaricana in forest remnants near there and at several other localities in Costa Rica and Panama.
    Generally, there seems to be a relationship between altitude and rainfall and size ofplants. It seems that smaller forms occur in lower altitudes with lower and perhaps more seasonal rainfall while larger forms occur at higher altitudes where rainfall is greater and less seasonal and evaporation less. Above Cerro Punta in western Panama we observed several individuals of a very large form of C. costaricana. Its stems were quite stout, six cm in diameter, but were so long, over 15 m, that they could not support themselves and were snaking up into the branches of taller trees. Bailey's C. linearia typifies the large end ofthe spectrum with plants being larger in every part. At the small end is Bailey's C. seibertii. The typical C. costaricana that Oersted described represents the middle of the spectrum. In his key to Chamaedorea, Bailey (1943b) distinguished between C. seibertii and C. linearia by the former having straight pinnae that were not sigmoid or falcate. The straightness or curvature of pinnae appears to be a variable character. The presence of the two ligules at the apex of the leaf sheath is a diagnostic character unifying all these forms.
    The ligules are lanceolate and membranous and more or less deciduous, at least in their upper portion. The lower or basal portion is not as membranous and is often persistent as a triangular tooth or auricle one to two cm long after the upper portion has fallen or rotted away. Since the upper portion is membranous and rots away rather rapidly, the overall visibility ofthis appendage is much reduced with time. Therefore, it is best viewed on leafsheaths on the apical portions ofstems near new, emerging leaves.
    The ligules or the triangular bases that are a remnant ofthem are visible on Bailey's type specimens of C. seibertii and C. linearia. The presence of this appendage is unsurpassed as a diagnostic character, as it is apparent even on young seedlings. Cook (1939, 1943a) gave admirable accounts ofC. costaricana that he referred to as Omanthe costaricana. The latter name has no botanical standing since Cook did not provide a Latin description. In the same accounts, Cook mentioned the ligules at the apex of the leafsheath but he referred to them as antiligules. Hertrich (1951) referred to C. costaricana under Cook's invalid name.
    Chamaedorea costaricana has been cultivated for ornament in San Jose, Costa Rica at least since the late 1800s and probably earlier, the forested slopes of Volcan Barva and the Meseta Central serving as a ready and accessible source of plants and seeds. Today, handsome clumps are found throughout the city. It is also commonly found in towns and villages to the north ofSan Jose along National Route 9 that winds past Volcan Barva to the Atlantic lowlands. Here, such as at the towns of Heredia and Barva, it is seen as a large hedge, screen, or as single specimens in many of the yards and residences. From Costa Rica, it has found its way throughout the horticultural world and is one of the more widespread members of the genus in cultivation, being found in gardens and collections in California, Florida, Hawaii, Australia, and elsewhere.
    Surprisingly, much of the material in California cultivated under the name C. costaricana is actually C. pochutlensis. A hybrid exists in California and perhaps elsewhere between C. graminifolia and what was reported as C. costaricana. However, it is not C. costaricana but C. pochutlensis that was utilized as one of the parents with C. graminifolia. C. pochutlensis is very similar to C. costaricana in habit but the absence ofthe two ligules at the apex ofthe leaf sheath distinguishes the former. Also, material in California and Hawaii grown as C. woodsoniana is actually C. costaricana. C. woodsoniana differs in its stout, solitary habit with robust stems 5-10 cm in diameter, lack ofpersistent ligules at the apex of the sheath, heavily nerved, straight pinnae, and larger, ellipsoid fruits. Krempin (1990, p. 97) illustrated C. costaricana but erroneously captioned the photograph as C. woodsoniana. Krempin (p. 90) also discussed and illustrated C. costaricana but the description and photograph seem to depict C. microspadix. Chamaedorea costaricana is closest to C. quezalteca and the latter species is perhaps not distinct. Rare in cultivation outside its native range, the fibrous, persistent ligules, five to ten cm long, distinguish C. quezalteca.
    Seeds of C. costaricana are handled on a commercial basis and distributed worldwide to nurseries, greenhouses, and other growers but to a much lesser extent than those of C. elegans or even C. seifrizii. The majority of seeds originates from cultivated plants in Costa Rica. C. costaricana is used mainly as an outdoor landscape subject in subtropical regions like Florida and southern California. It forms, with age, large handsome clumps that are effective backgrouind plants or screens for shady or partially sunny locations. Also, well grown individuals make attractive specimens for pots or tubs where their rich green, smooth, ringed, bamboolike stems and long-pinnate leaves can be appreciated fully.
    Although it is grown to some extent for indoor landscape use, C. costaricana is susceptible to infestations of mites under these conditions. Better choices for indoors would be C. pochutlensis or C. seifrizii, both more resistant to mites. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

Biology And Ecology

  • Moist or wet forest, mainly on the Pacific slope up to or near the Continental Divide but occasionally on the Atlantic slope; 600-2,300 m elevation. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


  • A derivative of Costa Rica, where the species was discovered. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

Common Name

  • Pacaya - Costa Rica. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


    • Habit: cespitose by means ofshort horizontal stems at or near ground level, mostly erect but at times eventually leaning and becoming decumbent, forming rather dense or open clumps 3-8 x 3-6 m. Stems: 2-6 cm diam., smooth, green, prominently ringed, internodes 5-30 cm long. Leaves: 4-6, erect-spreading, pinnate, 1-2 m long; sheath 20-60 cm long or more, tubular, green, longitudinally striate-nerved, apex with a ligule on each side of petiole, these initially lanceolate and membranous and later deciduous or rotting away to leave a triangular base 1-2 cm long; petiole to 35 cm long, grooved near base and green above, rounded and pale below; rachis to 125 cm long, angled and green above, rounded below and with a pale band extending onto sheath; pinnae 20-26 on each side ofrachis, 25-40 x 2.5-5 cm, linear-lanceolate to lanceolate, slightly sigmoid or falcate or nearly straight, alternate or subopposite, long-acuminate, contracted basally and there with a ± raised light green bump above, a whitish midrib prominent above and below with 2 prominent primary nerves on each side ofthis, 2 secondaries between each of these. Inflorescences: infrafoliar, erect-spreading; peduncles 20-45 cm long, 1-6 cm wide at base, 0.5-1 cm wide at apex, green and erect in flower, reddish orange and nodding in fruit; bracts 5-8, tubular, longitudinally striate-nerved, papery, brownish in flower, becoming shredded with age and ± deciduous, uppermost exceeding peduncle; rachises 10-20 cm long, green in flower, reddish orange in fruit. Staminate with 15-30 rachillae, these 20-30cm long, 2 mm diam., flexuous and ± pendulous or drooping, green to yellow in flower. Pistillate with 10-20 rachillae, these 20-35 cm long, 3 mm diam., very slightly longitudinally ridged, green and spreading in flower, reddish orange and drooping when heavily laden with fruits. Flowers: Staminate in moderate or ± dense spirals, 2.5-3.5 x 2.5-3 mm, oblong to depressed-globose, greenish yellow at anthesis ageing to brownish orange, slightly sunken; calyx 1 x 22.5 mm, deeply lobed, yellowish ageing to brownish orange, sepals free nearly to base and only briefly connate there, broadly rounded apically; petals 3 x 2-3 mm, ovate to deltoid, valvate, free nearly to base, spreading apically, ± fleshy, acute and slightly recurved apically; stamens 1-1.5 mm high, filaments short, anthers I mm long, brownish; pistillode to 2 mm high, columnar, slightly tapered apically, pale yellow. Pistillate in ± lax spirals, 3-3.5 x 2-2.5 mm, ovoid-globose, yellow, slightly sunken; calyx I x 2 mm, deeply lobed, greenish yellow, brown-margined, sepals connate only briefly basally, broadly rounded apically; petals 3 x 2.5-3 mm wide, triangular, imbricate nearly to apex, free, erect, acute apically; pistil to 3 x 2 mm, depressed-obovoid, green apically, styles short or lacking, stigma lobes short, recurved, thickened, dark. Fruits: 7-10 mm diam., globose to subglobose, green maturing black or purplish black; seeds 5-8 mm diam., globose, brownish, endocarp with distinctive s-shaped grooves. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

    Materials Examined

    • COSTA RICA. Alajuela: Croat 43601 (MO). Cartago: Hodel 698A, 698B, 978A, 978B (BH, CR); Wendland 16,24 (GOET). Guanacaste: Garwood 680 (BM, F); Grayum 6214 (MO). Heredia: Burger 7687 (F). Puntarenas: Gomez 21564, 21565, 21566 (MO); Hammel 13942 (MO); Hodel 693A, 693B (BH, CR); Moore 6549, 9436, 9437, 10151 (BH). San Jose: Grayum 5138 (MO). HONDURAS. El Paraiso: Pastor 102 (UNAH). Ocotepeque: Nelson 7984 (UNAH). NICARAGUA. Chontales: Bunting 1194 (F). Granada: Baker 195 (CAS, GH, RSA). Jinotega: Bunting 966 (F). Madruz: Williams 20275 (F). Managua: Standley 8384 (F). Matagalpa Hawkes 2156 (C); Williams 27673,29201 (F). PANAMA. Bocas del Toro: Kirkbride 604 (MO). Chiriqui: Allen 3521 (BH, MO); Hammel 1528 (BH, MO); Hodel 736A, 736B (BH, PMA); Wagner 476 (GOET), s.n. (M); Woodson 502 (MO), 948 (BH, MO). Code: Hodel 747 (BH, PMA). Herrera: Hammel 4308 (MO). Los Santos: Lewis 2927 (BH). Veraguas: de Nevers 6793 (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.
      B. World Checklist of Arecaceae