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What is Hyophorbe?

Greer Hed
Greer Hed

The palm tree family of plants includes the genus Hyophorbe, which is a group of approximately five unique tropical tree species. Genus Hyophorbe is native to a collection of islands located in the Indian Ocean known as the Mascarene Islands. Of its five species, two are greatly endangered and only grow in small numbers on the island of Mauritius. The three remaining species are often used for decorative effect in landscaping or kept indoors as potted plants.

Hyophorbe lagenucaulis, also known by the common name "bottle palm," is a flowering dwarf palm whose trunk has a unique and eye-catching shape that gives the tree its name. When the tree is young, its trunk is thick at the bottom and tapers at the top not unlike a bottleneck. This bulge slowly diminishes as the tree gets older. Its flowers are white, blooming during the early to midsummer months. Large, dark palm fruits that look like berries follow the flowers.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Another species, Hyophorbe verschaffeltii, is also known for its uniquely shaped trunk. This species is commonly known as a spindle palm, because its trunk is slender at both ends with a bulge in the middle, a shape that is reminiscent of the cylindrical spinning implement. The third species is called by its scientific name Hyophorbe indica, or by its common name, palmiste poison. This species has the least unusual trunk, with only a slight bulge, if any, in the center. Both species have flowers of a light yellow hue, although the spindle palm blooms in early spring and the palmiste poison blooms many times throughout the year.

All three species are perennial trees that will last for many seasons of growth. They tend to grow rather slowly, eventually reaching heights of up to 20 feet (six meters). Like most palms, they have large, broad feathery leaves that are a brilliant green on the top and a more subdued green-gray on the underside. They can be propagated from seed, and all three species are relatively easy to plant and grow.

The one thing trees of this genus will not tolerate well is frost. Although some varieties are more resistant to cold temperatures than others, for the most part, these palms prefer warm temperatures similar to those found in their native tropical habitat. They also tend to prefer sunny conditions, although some varieties can grow in shadier spots. People who live in colder climates can still enjoy the palms as potted plants.

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