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A forager’s typical view of a Queen Palm, photo by a White Washed Cottage

The Queen Palm and I got off on the wrong frond. Before I met one I had read it was toxic. There are a few toxic palms but the Queen Palm is not one of them.

photo by Hawaiin Dermatology

Fruit branches can be up to six feet long, photo by Hawaiian Dermatology

A rain forest native to Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina, Queen Palms, Syagrus Romanzoffiana, are more a landscaper’s delight than a forager’s. The palm is tall, stately, single-trunked with a crown of glossy, bright green, soft feather-like fonds. It forms a graceful, drooping 20-foot crown with bright orange fruit (dates) that ripen in the winter months. They are popular adornments along streets or walkways usually planted every 15 feet. Their gray trunks are attractively ringed with dropped leaf scars. From Florida to California it is the most commonly planted palm. It’s also common in northern Australia and they’re easy to grow in pots indoors if you live in cooler areas.

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Queen Palms have a lot of fiber and a large seed, photo by Green Deane

The elements that make it a choice palm for landscaping makes it a headache for foragers. Unlike the much shorter and also edible Pindo Palm, the Queen Palm is usually too tall to harvest the dates easily. One is left to picking them up off the ground where they can develop a white mold. Aromatic and sweet the dates are sticky and fibrous with a very large seed. Usually you don’t eat the date meat. One just chews on the pulpy coating getting the sugar off of it then spit out the fiber out. However, some people like to eat the fiber as well but it can cause a tummy ache. Besides being loaded with simple carbohydrates the date has antioxidant qualities almost on par with vitamin C, according to a 2012 study.

From a landscaping point of view the palm while desirable is also a lot of work. They are not “self-cleaning” so the older fronds have to be removed (at just the right time or the palm suffers.)  Also for many gardeners who turn a plot of land into a living painting a messy pile of dates is a visual blight on a highly coiffeured landscape. Thus the striking seed spikes are often cut off before the fruit gets a chance to ripen and drop.

The Queen Palm’s scientific name is a bit of a hodge-podge. When I first moved to Florida the palm was Cocos plumosa. Then it became a mouthful:  Arecastrum romanzoffianum. Now it is the tongue twisting Syagrus Romanzoffiana (sigh-AY-gruss roe-man-zoff-ee-AY-nuh or see-A-grus ro-man-zof-fee-A-na)  Though those and at least a half-a-dozen other names most people just called it the Queen Palm (or occasionally the Giriba palm.)

Center, theCape of Fartak, or in the ancient world Cape Syagrus. Photo by NASA.

Center, the Cape of Fartak, or in the ancient world Cape Syagrus. Photo by NASA.

Syagrus (SEE-ah-grus) was a Greek poet who commented about Troy before Homer. Copycat references say the genus was named after the poet. That is Internet nonsense. On the Arabian seacoast there is a point called the Cape of Fartak, now in eastern Yeman, which is in the part of the world where dates were first cultivated and still grown. The ancient Greeks called it Cape Syagrus named after the σύαγρος (SEE-ah-gros) date. Greeks often named an area after what grew there. We also know the Roman author Pliny the Elder also referenced a Syagrus date. The genus is clearly named for the date not the poet.

Count Nikolai Petrovich Rumyantsev

Count Nikolai Petrovich Rumyantsev

Romanzoffiana is more obtuse. It honors Count Nikolai Petrovich Rumyantsev (1754-1826) which after going through the Dead Latin filter becomes Romanzoffiana. Who was he? Apparently a count you could not count on. Rumyantsev was a foreign minister to Alexander I of Russia.  He sought closer ties between Russia and France in the early 1800s. Rumyantsev also, understandably, suffered a stroke when he heard that Napoleon had invaded Russia. Ooopse, slight miscalculation there. As a result of the stroke Rumyantsev lost his hearing and by then his career was in ruins.  So why is a palm named after him? In private life Rumyantsev was a bit of a historian, collector of odds and ends, and patron of exploration voyages including the first Russian navigation around the globe. In short, he bought the honor. Nearly 200 years after his death all that remains of him is a painting and a palm.

A Tiki made from a Queen Palm trunk. Photo by Tiki Room.

A Tiki made from a Queen Palm trunk. Photo by Tiki Room.

Curiously the University of Florida refers to the Queen Palm date as “ornamental” and classifies the palm as a category II invasive species. In Australia the palm is a threat to a bat called the Flying Fox. They eat the green dates and get sick. Also the large seed lodges behind their back teeth preventing them from eating thus starving. And the bats themselves get stuck in the fronds, which apparently throws off their radar. Despite that they do spread the seeds around causing it to be invasive there.  In South America the seeds are spread by the tapir. In fact, in one study, which I would not have wanted to conduct, 98% of the tapir dung piles had Queen Palm seeds in them (averaging 200 seeds each.) That must be  difficult to put on your resume: Tapir Dung Expert… Anyway, Queen Palms can hybridize with Pindo Palms producing some hard to identify palms and fruit. The hybrid species is called X Butiarecastrum. Why cross them? To get the grace of the Queen but the cold hardiness of the Pindo.

 Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile.

IDENTIFICATION: An upright palm to 50 feet, pinnate compound leaves to three feet. Flowers white to cream, fruit green turning light orange then bright orange.  Often you will see a palm with a bulge in the middle with a skinny trunk on bottom and top. That means it was neglected, then fed and watered well, then neglected again.

TIME OF YEAR: Fruits in late fall or the winter months

ENVIRONMENT: Acidic, well-drained sandy soil in full sun. Likes ample moisture and is slightly salt tolerant. Cold hardy to 20 F.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: The sticky, sweet pulp can be eaten off the seed, or made into wine or jelly. The seed oil is used for cooking. The palm’s inner pith dried might be a flour substitute.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 JOSH YINGLING March 30, 2013 at 11:15

love the raw fruit, you should do a edible raw page similar to your edible flowers where they are grouped together. thank you for all your knowledge and willingness to put a page like this up

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2 Bob James April 5, 2013 at 03:59

I attended your class in Meade Gardens a couple months ago and wrote down 40 names of plants you identified. Evidently I misspelled a number of them as I can’t find them on your blog.

Also, I can’t identify several plants near my house. May I suggest that you have a seminar, possibly regularly, to allow people (particularly rank beginners) bring specimens to be identified? Also, perhaps, to correct spelling?

Best regards,
Bob James

I’m doing fine with the thistles, sprouted Moranga,

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3 Green Deane April 5, 2013 at 08:50

Thanks for writing. My blog is very unforgiving for misspellings, which irritates even me as I am a poor speller. Might I suggest you first try them in Google which works on the principle that close is good and might produce the correct spelling you are looking for. A seminar is an interesting idea. The Winter Park library has a coffee shop and a little out door area. Maybe one could do a seminar there for a couple of hours.

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4 joe smith May 14, 2013 at 20:51

i eat these all the time there quite good!

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5 charles taylor July 24, 2013 at 00:32

Purchased 4 of these at SAM’S this evening for $26 a piece,can’t wait to plant around my pool.Great article.

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6 cyndy August 19, 2013 at 16:33

I am new to Florida. This is the BEST website I have found for information.
Thank you so much for all your hard work.

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7 Patricia Dekle September 22, 2013 at 00:46

How long can the juice of the queen palm be stored in the refrigerator before using it to make jelly? Thanks

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8 Green Deane September 23, 2013 at 12:03

Until mold starts. Better to freeze it.

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9 Ulrich Oelofse October 24, 2013 at 02:28

HI,
I wondered if you could help me, I want to harvest the seeds from my Queen palms, but there seems to be different opinions on how it should be done. Some say the seeds should be taken out of the fleshy part while the fruit is still green ,then as much of the hairy outside taken of ,then 3 days in water,then in a sealed plastic bag in a warm area (I’m not sure),others say wait till the fruit is ripe (orange)and maybe even falls off by itself then start the same process,I’m not sure which is right. Also even though all the fruits are still green ,I found a lot of seeds on the ground around the trees,it seems they either fell of and dried out in a previous season or were eaten clean(some seem quite small,others like they are still in the process of drying). Can I do anything with these ,plant them in other words. I would really appreciate your help if you can.
Thanks
Ulrich

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10 Green Deane October 28, 2013 at 08:56

Plant them? Sure, but improving their germination is beyond my area of expertise.

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11 Greg December 30, 2013 at 20:15

Queen palms are not good landscape plans because they are prone to falling during a hurricane as reported in the book Stormscaping (Florida Gardening Series, Vol. 3) by Pamela Crawford.

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12 Green Deane December 30, 2013 at 20:35

I’ll chance it. I like the fruit.

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13 Adriane March 5, 2014 at 19:04

On a recent camping outing to the Bolivar peninsula on the Texas coast, (a ferry ride east of Galveston Island) I spotted a beautiful palm outside of a bait shop that seems to fit your description of the Queen palm. It was mid February and the tree had huge clusters of yellow-orange fruits hanging on it, as well as a good number of fallen fruits on the ground below which I picked up with the intention of growing. When I peeled the fibrous outer material off of one of the drier fruits I found a hard seed that looked like a very miniature coconut inside. It has the same shape as a coconut including three tiny “eyes” on one end. I found it intriguing. Do you think this is a Queen palm? I would like to know since I plan to sprout and grow the seeds so I would like to know what I have.

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14 Green Deane March 5, 2014 at 20:48

Sounds like one to me. Got a picture?

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15 Geoff May 23, 2014 at 01:41

Tough tree to look after when mature. Invades native forests. Fruit Bats have spread nuts into some of the most pristine rainforest left in Nth Queensland. They grow aggressively on the margins or at breaks in the canopy. Please no more for Nth Qld. Foxtail palms are a better choice for beauty but the fruit isn’t edible.

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16 Don Truman June 21, 2014 at 17:35

There is a very attractive variant called the Silver Queen. It has over 30 fronds and looks like a giant puff ball. It is also more cold resistant and grows to 80 feet. Mine has withstood 14°. Most of the fronds died but the tree survived easily. The fronds have a slight silvery color to them. All in all it is a more attractive and durable tree than the standard Queen Palm.

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