What is a Jelly Palm?

The jelly palm is a small, hardy palm tree native to Brazil. It has the scientific name of Butia capitata and is also known by the names pindo palm and wine palm. Many of its names come from its edible orange fruit, sometimes called pindo dates, that are medium in size and are often used to make jams, jellies and wine. The large leaves, which are feathery and often green with a silver tint, arch down and in toward the palm's thick trunk.

The fruit of the jelly palm may be used to make wine.
The fruit of the jelly palm may be used to make wine.

Germination of the jelly palm seed can be erratic, taking a few weeks or months and sometimes more than a year. The process can be hastened with warm soil temperatures of 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit (27-32 degrees Celsius). It is more hardy than many tropical plants, making it suitable for a large range of climates.

The jelly palm is a small tree, usually growing 10-20 feet (3-6 m) tall. When the palm is raised in soil that is dry and of poor quality, the specimen tends to be smaller. Trees that are shaded tend to be more graceful and lean in their looks. Taller trees typically are more difficult to grow, and many specimens of the jelly palm will remain less than 15 feet (4.5 m) tall.

The large, delicate leaves of jelly palm make it popular as an ornamental tree, but it is quite brittle and prone to damage, particularly in high winds. It is a drought-tolerant tree that will grow in many conditions, but warm to mild environments are preferred. During cold winters, the tree might need to be wrapped for protection, although being one of the hardiest palms, it can survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit (12 degrees Celsius).

The jelly palm flowers numerous buds that open into small, creamy yellow and and almost red flowers. The fruit is approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm) in size and ranges in color from yellow to orange. The fruit is said to be sweet-tart and can be eaten fresh. It is most commonly used to make jellies and wines. The fruit contains a single seed and is usually abundant.

Hybridization is possible with the jelly palm, and it is possible that this is responsible for the large variety in size and shape of specimens. There are several other species with which it can hybridize, including Butia yatay, Butia eriospatha and Butia paraguayensis. The mule palm, or X Butiagrus nabonnandii, is a sterile hybrid that results from crossing the jelly palm with Syagrus romanzoffiana, the queen palm. They are hand-pollinated and can fetch high prices because of this.

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