Roystonea oleracea

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Figure 1. Pure stand of R. oleracea in Rockhampton Botanic Gardens.



R. caribaea, R. venezuelana

Common Names:

Barbados Royal Palm,
Venezuelan Royal Palm,
Caribbee Palm

Distribution & Habitat:

Lowland swamps from the Lesser Antilles to north-eastern Colombia.


A tall, massively trunked solitary palm to about 20m, with a very solid, wide, white straight sided trunk, extremely wide at the base, wide deep green shiny leaflets, and pinnate leaves. Often said to be the most attractive of the Roystoneas, not as commonly grown as Roystonea_regia due to being somewhat less cold hardy. Can be differentiated from R. regia because of its wider, deeper green, shinier leaflets held in two planes neatly on either side of the rachis, each plane consists of a double row of leaflets givng a full but never plumouse impression R. regia has thin longer mat leaflets, held in an irregular plumose arrangement and is a smaller palm in every way.


This monumental and famously magnificent tropical garden and avenue palm is considered the Rolls Royce of the Roystonea and palm world, certainly the tallest more impressive and attractive of the Roystoneas. With the full slightly rakish shaggy head of delicately balanced long leaves held on or near the horizontal to the crown shaft, wide, shiny, gently drooping, very dark green leaflets arranged in four ranks divided strictly on two planes either side of the rachis, plus the truly massive white towering trunks do all make for something of a tropical spectacle. For the larger garden perhaps where it's size wont out compete any architecture. Certainly widely found in tropical municipal plantings where they impart a formal splendour and drama to much colonial architecture, parks and monuments. Tolerant of very high winds as the leaves are easily shed so is rarely ever lethally damaged by such. The self shedding/cleaning leaves of this species are drier and much lighter than Roystonea_regia at time of shed, so present less of a danger to anything underneath, they tend to float rather than plummet in a dead drop.

Hybrids readily occur with other Roystoneas especially R. regia in the tropics but primarily on Hawaii where pure specimens even in botanical gardens with the noticeable exception of a pure stand at the Lyon Arboretum are rare. Identifying pure R. oleracea stands doesn't pose much confusion as together with the sheer height, massive size and incredibly wide base and straight sidedness or absence of a bulge in the trunk, four dark green shiny leaflet ranks arranged strictly and neatly on two planes two either side of the rachis, leaves usually held just on or above the horizontal at least as to not obscure the shaft, make easily identifying characteristics in adult specimens. Generally plumose arrangement of the leaflets and leaves drooping bellow the horizontal indicates a hybrid or another species. In juveniles, seedlings there are only two ranks held neatly either side the rachis in two planes instead of the four ranks two either side of the rachis in mature specimens. The rachis and petiole in juveniles is also dark reddish brown. Juveniles of R. regia have untidy loosely plumose, thin, longer, ribbon like leaflets and an olive green petiole and rachis. Worth sourcing seed from pure wild populations or park avenues of pure Oleracea void of any R. regia nearby in the tropics.

Two world famous avenues of R. oleracea exist, one in the Rua Jardim Botanico, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and another in the Ang Mo Kio Town Garden, West, Singapore.


Prefers a sunny, moist position, and doesn't mind damp toes when mature but will drown and die if planted straight into waterlogged conditions. Younger specimens and seedlings are happy in light dappled shade but can tolerate full sun if humidity and irrigation is sufficiently high. A very fast robust grower in the tropics and warm wet subtropics for deep rich soil. Succeeds more spectacularly if planted near water or boggy soil, dripping tap, sewage system or other constant water supply, high rainfall or irrigation spill. Unlike the more commonly grown R. regia they are also not as susceptible to lack of trace elements as juveniles but retain a good dark even green in suitably warm humid climates. Not cold hardy much bellow around 10 - 15 %C a few weeks at a time, but can take a few days into the single digits, preferably without wind, without any noticeable damage.

Figure 2. Possible hybrid of R. oleracea at Mt. Cootha Botanical Gardens, Brisbane.

Contributed by:

Daryl O'Connor, (Figure 1)
Mike Gray (Figure 2)

External Links:

Kew, PalmWeb, JSTOR, Trebrown, Wikipedia

Google, Google Images, Flickr, PACSOA Forums, PalmTalk