Chambeyronia lepidota

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Figure 1. C. lepidota crownshaft

The genus Chambeyronia, endemic to New Caledonia, consists of two species. One of them is C. macrocarpa, which lately is becoming a popular ornamental palm. It is a beautiful plant with colorful new leaves, that are usually bright red in their first days, and later turn green.

C. macrocarpa grows abundantly in many diffent locations in New Caledonia, mostly in isolated patches, and has some different local forms. Most stands of C. macrocarpa are at low altitude. It grows on different kinds of soils and it can occur in relatively dry habitats, where abundant ground water is available.

The rarer Chambeyronia lepidota is much more restricted in distribution. It occurs on soils derived from schistose rocks at higher elevations, between 400 and 1500 m, in the humid east-central and north-east areas of the island, (Hodel and Pintaud, 1998).

One of the places where this species thrive is on the spectacular Mont Pani", the fabulous mountain in northeast New Caledonia, which is blessed by the presence of 12 palm species, all of them endemic to the island.

In October 2000, just before the start of the IPS biennial, I hiked Mount Pani" up to its top, at 1618 m asl, which is the highest elevation of the island. Chambeyronia lepidota can be easily observed along the main path to the top. Higher parts of Mt.Pani" are subject to occasional light frosts, and a few slightly stunted individuals of C. lepidota grow on the very top of the mountain, together with the endemic Araucaria schmidii and the giant tree Agathis montana."

Figure 2. C. lepidota infructescencewith evident rat predation at 1100 m.
Figure 3. C. lepidota in habitat, Mont Pani" at 1400 m.

The finest specimens of this handsome palm grow at around 1200 m. Their spectacular crownshaft is very robust and coated with a red-brownish velvet (the word lepidota means "with scales")." All the parts of the plant are much thicker and stiffer than comparable parts of C. macrocarpa. Seeds of Chambeyronia lepidota appearently take years to ripen. This slowness is common in New Caledonia palms and also occurs in palms from many other islands. These "slow palms" do well until rats or other fruit predators are introduced to the island. Introduced rats are not slow at all and eat or damage the fruits well before they are ripe, thus affecting the plant"s reproductive dynamics. Rat damage to unripe fruits of C. lepidota is evident on Mont Pani". Sadly, in these cases conservation projects are rarely undertaken. Palm populations may decline so slowly that people barely notice it. Old, senescent palms persist for decades and a few seeds always escape predators and germinate, so the extinction point may not be reached for longer than a human lifetime. Furthermore, if we are not even able to keep rodents away from our gardens and patios, it would obviously be hard to erradicate them from the forested slopes of New Caledonia. Palm growers have recently shown their interest in growing Chambeyronia lepidota, as a possiby cold-hardier relative of C.macrocarpa. I would bet that this palm is more cold tolerant than C. macrocarpa, but I would also also bet it is a finicky high-elevation plant. It probably needs heavy mists, cool nights througout the year, acid soil, good water quality, and all those factors that cannot be easily reproduced in the subtropics.




Contributed by:

Carlo Morici (Text and Figure 1,2&3)

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