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Plants: Species Collection: Palms

One of the delights of the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park skyline is the many tall, graceful palms you see sparkling in the sun and waving gently in the breeze. We have palms lining our main pathways from Wegeforth Bowl through the Entrance Plaza and on through to the camels. Their variety of heights, leaf and trunk types, seeds, and flowers is amazing. Palms are yet another plant that is extremely important to humans. They are used for food (coconuts, dates), oil, sugar, wine, tagua (a form of vegetable ivory), ropes, mats, fuel, furniture, instruments, and the list goes on and on.

Widespread throughout the world, many palms have their seeds dispersed by the animals that feed on them, everything from cassowaries and African elephants, to shrikes, black bears, and wild dogs. Palms also have the distinction of having the largest seeds in the Plant Kingdom: the coco-de-mer palm seeds (from the islands north of Madagascar) are the size and shape of a human's posterior! While we don't have any coco-de-mers in our collection (our weather isn't warm enough), we have plenty of other palms.

The king palms Archontophoenix cunninghamiana that line the road from the guided bus tour loading area down toward Bear Canyon are truly majestic. And the Zoo has seven species of fishtail palms that can be seen many places in the Zoo, including Flamingo Lagoon, Sun Bear Forest, and Wings of Australasia.

Our 227 taxa make up the second-largest accredited palm collection in California. Furthermore, we have 32 species that are threatened or endangered in the wild, including highly endangered Carpoxylon macrosperma palms from New Hebrides and Hyophorbe lagenicaulis palms from the Mascarene Islands.

Gracefully waving their fronds above the heads of the giraffes, a variety of hardy palm trees can be found in many of the Wild Animal Park's Field Exhibits. One palm may look like another to those who aren't connoisseurs, but there are some differences to look for, even from afar. Look for fan palms Washingtonia robusta, California fan palms Washingtonia filifera, and Canary Island date palms Phoenix canariensis.