Back in 1990, Garden Founder Dan Lutkenhouse planted three specimens of Phenakospermum guyannense, the South American Travelers Tree, here in Onomea Valley.
Also called “The Big Palulu” or “Patuju Gigante”, the plant is a monotypic genus native to Northern South America. It used to be in the Musaceae (Banana) Family but is now more accurately placed in the Sterlitziaceae (Bird-of-Paradise) Family.
While common in its native environs, the plant is not often seen in cultivation. Phenakospermum is clumping or slightly running and resembles a giant upright Heliconia sometimes 30 to 40 ft tall. Its banana-like leaves, among the largest in the world, have been used as roofing material by the Amazonian people.
This past Autumn marked the first time that the plant has revealed its truly remarkable inflorescence at HTBG. Large stalks emerged conspicuously above the leaves
reaching a height of twelve feet. Boat-shaped floral bracts, very similar to the bracts of the related Bird-of-Paradise, appeared distichously (on opposite sides), 5 or 6 on each side, along the stalks.
The real flowers emerge from the bracts just before dark and are receptive for just one night, but the inflorescence can produce flowers for as long as two months. If the flowers are pollinated it will produce seeds that look like Halloween Candy similar to Bird of Paradise seeds; black with orange hair on them. The seeds are not considered safe for human consumption.
When the flowering is done and seed set, the individual trunk will die off, but the clump will live on with several trunks still actively growing.
Another long awaited infloresecence we have recently seen comes from a rare and very special palm, Pelagodoxa henryana.
This palm from Vanuatu, Marquesas and Fiji Islands is extinct in the wild, existing now only in ex situ collections, and private collections. It is a very attractive palm with large, undivided, pinnately ribbed leaves as long as 10 feet and as wide as 3 feet. It reaches a height of about 35 feet.
This year marks the first time the palm has set seed at HTBG. The round fruit has a cork-like warty skin that is tan colored at maturity. We plan to germinate the seeds and plant them to increase our valuable population of these rare and endangered palms.
Heliconia Society Conservation Center
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden has been approved as an offical Conservation Center for Zingerberales by the Board of Heliconia Society International. The Zingerberales include Cannaceae, Costaceae, Heliconiaceae, Lowiaceae, Marantaceae, Musaceae, Strelitziaceae, and Zingiberaceae. Many thanks to David Lorence and David Skinner of HSI for making this happen.