Phoenix canariensis Chabaud, Prov. Agric. Hort. Ill. 19: 293 (1882)

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Phoenix canariensis is endemic to the Canary Islands and occurs scattered, in populations of varying sizes, on all seven islands. The largest populations of wild palms are found on La Gomera. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A


  • In the classical literature a reference to P. canariensis was given by Pliny (see Hort 1916) as Palmeta caryotasferentia, who reported the observation ofJuba that '...Canaria also abounds in palm groves bearing dates.' Webb & Berthelot (1847) were the first to recognise differences between the Canary Island palm and the date palm, describing the former as P. dactylifera var. jubae Webb & Berthel. Christ (1885) later gave the palm species status as P. jubae (Webb & Berthel.) D. H. Christ. Neither name was in common use by the horticultural trade who tended rather to adopt the unpublished names P. cycadifolia and P. canariensis (e.g., Neubert 1873). The name P. cycadifolia was validated by Regel (1879) with a brief description and illustration of a palm growing in Athens. The name P. canariensis was validated by Chabaud (1882) with a description and illustration of a cultivated palm grown from seed of Canary Island origin. Despite the robust nature of the 'canariensis-like' palm depicted in the illustration of Regel (1879), Beccari (1890) considered P. cycadifolia to be a synonym of P. dactylifera. I agree with Moore (1971a) in considering the illustration of R cycadifolia to be more similar to P. canariensis than P. dactylifera, and thus consider it a synonym of the former. The name P. cycadifolia predates P. canariensis by three years, should thus take nomenclatural precedence but because of the doubt surrounding the identity of P. cycadifolia, and the great familiarity of botanists and the horticultural trade with the name P. canariensis, I follow Moore (1963a) in maintaining the latter as the accepted name for the Canary Island palm. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A

Biology And Ecology

  • From sea-level up to 600 m in a range of habitats, from humid areas just below cloud forest to semi-arid areas where its presence usually indicates groundwater. Ecological requirements of P. canariensis were extensively studied by Liipnitz & Kretschmar (1994). In its native habitat P. canariensis flowers during the spring and fruits ripen in the autumn. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A


  • The greatest threat to P. canariensis is an increase in cultivation of exotic species of Phoenix on the Canary Islands and contamination of the native species with alien genetic material. The ease with which species of Phoenix hybridize in cultivation is well known (Corner 1966; Hodel 1995), and the large number of horticultural names associated with 'canariensis-like' palms reflects the number and variety of hybrids in existence. Phoenix dactylifera and P. roebelenii have long been in cultivation on the Canary Islands and in recent years other exotic species of the genus have been introduced. Hybridization between P. canariensis and R dactylifera poses the biggest problem due to the difficulty of early detection and removal of the resulting hybrids. The recent ban on the importation of exotic species of Phoenix should help lessen the hybridization threat. Importation of palms known to carry the pathogen that causes Lethal Yellowing may also pose a threat to wild populations of P. canariensis. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A

Common Name

  • Palmera Canaria (Canary Islands), (Carlo Morici, pers. comm.). (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A


  • Phoenix canariensis is extensively cultivated in warm temperate regions as a street tree or garden plant. The leaflets are used in much the same way as those of P. dactylifera for a range of woven products including crosses for Palm Sunday celebrations. Inflorescence buds are tapped for the sweet sap which is eaten as palm honey. Mifsud (1995) reported an unusual use for leaves of P. canariensis in Malta where fishermen attract pilot and dolphin fish by floating two or three palm leaves on the sea surface near their nets. These fish species are known to congregate under floating objects and so are easy prey beneath the palm leaves. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A


  • Solitary palm. Stem to 15 (20) m tall, without leaf sheaths to 120 cm diam.; trunk dull brown, marked with broad, diamond-shaped leaf base scars. Leaves arching, 5 - 6 m long; leaf base 25 - 30 cm wide; pseudopetiole to one fifth of total leaf length; leaf sheath reddish-brown, fibrous; acanthophylls proximally congested in arrangement, pointing in several directions, green when young, becoming yellow, to c. 20 cm long, conspicuously folded (conduplicate); leaflets closely and regularly inserted in one plane of orientation, to c. 200 on each side of rachis, often forward-pointing, c. 25 - 30 cm long; lamina concolorous, bluish-green, with adaxial and abaxial surfaces glabrous. Staminate inflorescence erect; prophyll splitting twice between margins, yellow-green with reddish-brown tomentum when young becoming brown and coriaceous, to c. 40 cm; peduncle to c. 50 - 70 cm long. Staminate flowers crowded along full length of rachillae; calyx an even-rimmed cupule, 1.5 - 2 mm high; petals to 6 x 3 mm, with apex rounded and minutely serrate. Pistillate inflorescence initially erect, becoming pendulous; prophyll splitting between margins, yellow-green, to 60 x 10 cm; peduncle yellow-green, elongating with maturity, 1.6 - 2 m long; rachillae yellow, elongating with fruit maturation, to c. 60 cm long. Pistillate flowers mostly in distal half of rachillae, yellow-white, with faintly sweet scent; calyx cupule c. 2.5 mm high; petals c. 3 x 4 mm. Fruit obovoid, 1.5 - 2.0 x c. 1.2 cm, ripening from yellow- green to golden-yellow. Seed ovoid in shape, c. 15 x 10 mm, with rounded apices; embryo lateral opposite raphe; endosperm homogeneous. (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A

Materials Examined

  • CANARY Is. La Gomera, 1895 (pist.), Bourgeau 1014 (BM!, FI-W!); Tenerife, Orotava, 2 July 1900 (pist.), Bornmuller 1265 (K!); Tenerife, 1933 (pist.), Asplund 858 (K!). (Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae))A

Use Record

  • Phoenix canariensis Chabaud: Street trees (Livistona chinensis, Trachycarpus fortunei, Pritchardia pacifica, Washingtonia robusta, Phoenix canariensis, Roystonea regia, Parajubaea cocoides, Cocos nucifera, Ceroxylon spp., Archontophoenix alexandrae, Jubaea chilensis, Phoenix reclinata). (Balslev, H., and A. Barfod 1987: Ecuadorean palms- an overview)
    Use CategoryUse Sub CategoryPlant PartHuman GroupEthnic GroupCountry
    EnvironmentalOrnamentalEntire plantNot identifiedN/AEcuador


    A. Barrow, S.C. 1998: A Monograph of Phoenix L. (Palmae: Coryphoideae)