Carossier Palm

Description and biology

The carossier palm, or petit coco (little coconut), is a tall, solitary palm that grows to a height of 65 feet (20 meters). Its smooth gray trunk measures up to 13.8 inches (35 centimeters) in diameter. It has a crown of 15 to 19 arching leaves that measure up to 17.5 feet (5.3 meters) long.

Each compound leaf (called a frond) is composed of numerous smooth–edged leaflets. These leaflets grow opposite each other at regular spaces on either side of the leaf’s stalk, or rachis (pronounced RAY–kiss).

This palm produces fruits that resemble tiny coconuts (hence the palm’s common name on Haiti). Each fruit consists of a fibrous, hard shell surrounding a small, white, hollow kernel that is edible.

The fruits are egg–shaped and taper to a sharp point. They measure 1.25 to 1.75 inches (3.18 to 4.45 centimeters) in length. When mature (ripe), they are reddish in color.

Habitat and current distribution

The carossier palm is found only on Haiti’s southwestern peninsula, an area once dominated by tropical scrub (stunted trees or shrubs) vegetation. In the late 1980s, botanists (people specializing in the study of plants) located 26 palms of various ages in 5 small populations. All of these surviving wild palms are on private lands. In 1996, fewer than 30 individual plants were found on Haiti.

This palm prefers to grow in full sunlight at or near sea level.

History and conservation measures

The carossier palm was first described in 1689 by a French priest and naturalist. He wrote that the palm was abundant in southwestern Haiti. By the 1920s, when botanists first began to study the plant, it had begun to disappear and was considered a rarity. Botanists are deeply interested in the carossier palm because it is the only one of its genus (Attalea) that grows in the Caribbean.

Because of Haiti’s growing human population and poor economy, many of the island’s natural resources have been depleted. The carossier palm has been crowded out of its habitat by farming and its edible seeds have been collected by local people. Since the carossier palm is not currently growing in any protected areas, the outlook for its future is grim.