Argun Palm

Description and biology

The Argun palm can grow to a height of almost 33 feet (10 meters). Its bare trunk sprouts no branches, but is topped by a crown of leaves. These fan–shaped leaves measure up to 4.4 feet (1.3 meters) long.

Each compound leaf (called a frond is composed of numerous stiff, sword–shaped leaflets, which measure 0.4 to 1.6 inches (1 to 4 centimeters) wide. These leaflets grow opposite each other on either side of the leaf’s stalk or rachis (pronounced RAY–kiss).

This palm is dioecious (pronounced die–O–shus). This means that one Argun palm will have male flowers (which give off pollen) while another will have female flowers (which receive the pollen).

The male flowers are small with three spreading petals. They are attached to the palm by dense spikes that measure 6 to 11 inches (15 to 28 centimeters) in length.

The female flowers are rounded and measure approximately 0.2 inch (0.5 centimeter) across. They are attached to stout stalks 0.4 inch (1 centimeter) long that protrude from similar spikes.

Habitat and current distribution

The Argun palm has been found only in a few sites in Egypt and Sudan. In the early 1960s, botanists (people specializing in the study of plants) found one tree in an uninhabited oasis (fertile area in a desert) 140 miles (225 kilometers) southwest of the Egyptian city of Aswan. Another single palm was found in a similar site about 125 miles (200 kilometers) west of Aswan.

A final group of palms was discovered on the east side of the Nile River in the south. In Sudan, some palms were found at a site 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of the city of Wadi Halfa in the northern region of the country.

In the mid 1990s, botanists were unable to find any live Argun palms and began to believe that the species was extinct. In 1995, however, several small, fragmented populations of the species were found in Sudan. It appears that these populations are able to reproduce.

The Argun palm is found in groves on river banks and in oases or wadis (stream beds or valleys that are usually dry except during the rainy season).

History and conservation measures

In ancient Egypt, the Argun palm was widespread and was placed as an offering in tombs.

Now, the Argun palm is among the most threatened of any palm species in the world. It has been cut down in great numbers because native people in its range use its leaves to make mats. Much of its natural habitat also has been destroyed by irrigation projects along the Nile River that feed water to farms.

Since the 1995 discovery of Argun palms in Sudan, botanists (people specializing in the study of plants) have been collecting the seeds of the plants for cultivation.