Phoenix (plant)

Phoenix is a genus of 13 species of palms, native from the Canary Islands east across northern and central Africa, the extreme southeast of Europe (Crete), and southern Asia from Turkey east to southern China and Malaysia. The diverse habitats they occupy include swamps, deserts, and mangrove sea coasts. Most Phoenix species originate in semiarid regions but usually occur near high groundwater levels, rivers or springs. The genus is unique among members of the subfamily Coryphoideae, being the only one with pinnate, rather than palmate leaves. The name derives from a New Latin form of φοῖνιξ, the Greek word for 'date palm', probably referring to the Phoenicians who brought the palm with them in their travels or maybe from φοινός, 'red-coloured', referring to the colour of their dates.


This genus is mostly medium to robust in size but also includes a few dwarf species; trunks are solitary in four species, suckering and clumped in nine, of which one has a prostrate ground trunk. Many of the trunked species do not form above-ground stems for several years. The pinnate leaves, 1-6 m long, all share the common feature of metamorphosed lower-leaf segments into long, vicious spines (acanthophylls). The leaves have short or absent petioles and possess the rare feature among pinnate palms of induplicate (V-shaped) leaflets. The plants are dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants; pollination is by both wind and insect. The flowers are inconspicuous yellowish-brown and about 1 cm wide, but grouped on conspicuous large multi-branched panicles 30-90 cm long. The inflorescence emerges from a usually boat-shaped, leathery bract, forming large, pendent clusters. Phoenix fruit develops from one carpel as a drupe, 1-7 cm long, yellow to red-brown or dark purple when mature, with one elongate, deeply-grooved seed.


In addition, some authorities include Phoenix atlantica, or Cape Verde palm, endemic to the Cape Verde Islands, although others characterize it as a feral P. dactylifera.

The fruit of P. dactylifera, the date of commerce, is large with a thick layer of fruit pulp, edible, very sweet and rich in sugar; the other species have only a thin layer of fruit pulp.

While P. dactylifera is grown for its dates, P. canariensis the Canary Island Date Palm is widely grown as an ornamental plant. It differs from the former in having a stouter trunk, more leaves to the crown, more closely spaced leaflets and deep green rather than grey-green leaves. The fruit of P. canariensis is edible, but rarely eaten by humans because of their small size and thin flesh.

The different species of the genus frequently hybridise where they grow in proximity. This can be a problem when planting P. canariensis as an ornamental plant, as the hybrid palms are aesthetically inferior and do not match the pure-bred plants when planted in avenues, etc.

Phoenix species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Paysandisia archon and the Batrachedra species B. amydraula (recorded on P. dactylifera), B. arenosella and B. isochtha (feeds exclusively on Phoenix spp).

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