Mauritia carana

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Caraná (Spanish pron cah-rah-NAH). ===Common Names:===

Contents

Distribution & Habitat:

Amazon and Orinoco basins restricted to the upper Brazilian amazon, crossing into Venezuela, Colombia and Peru close to their Brazilian borders. Caranas need good drainage unlike their closest relative, Mauritia flexuosa. Both are rainforest dwellers but intolerant of the full shade of the forest. While M. flexuosa is adapted to clearings usually on the margins of swamps, M. carana occurs mostly on the margins of forest and savannah or rivers (where the riverbank is well drained).

Description:

The Carana is a large caespitose, dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants) palm, and is part of a unique tribe of seven species with reduplicate fan leaves and scaly (calamoides) fruit native to the new world.

This palm has a maximum trunk height of about 15m with 20-35cm diameter. Leaf bases entangled with an abundance of fibres may be persistent for more than ten years finally exposing a roughly close-ringed surface. The petioles are 1.5-2.8m long. Leaf laminas are 1.5-2.6m in diameter glossy deep green, forming more than 50 pendulous segments, each coming to a blunt point. The mid-vein of these segments in juvenile plants have flexible spines pointing towards the apex, that are usually absent in adult plants.

The growth habit is most remarkable. Most palms that are caespitose start with a single stem that ascends to a certain height before producing suckers. In contrast, this species grows as a clumping stemless plant for 5 to 15 years. In this juvenile state, it may have as many as ten shoots in the clump of 3-6m wide and 2-2.5m high. Not needing to reach for sunlight, the plant uses this early stage to gain strength before investing in the single central trunk, which then emerges above the rest of its foliage and after a few more years the secondary shoots die off and the main trunk commences flowering and fruiting.

Male or female inflorescences arise amongst the leaf-bases. These are 60-150cm long, arching, rachillas pendulous. Ripe fruit are spherical, 5-7cm diameter with a maroon/dull red scaly skin 2mm thick. Under the skin, there is a layer of flesh 6-10mm thick. It is relatively dry and starchy, bright yellow to orange in colour, rich in carotenoids and edible. There is one round seed of 22-35mm diameter.

The phyllotaxis is 1/3 in adult plants, which means the leaves form three vertical rows up the trunk like the “Triangle palm”, Dypsis decoryi. All members of its tribe have a phyllotaxis of ½ when seedlings but lose this early.

Cultivation:

Germination is adjacent and may take over 6 months, mine missed the first wet season and so in the same batch germinated at 18, 30 and 42 months. They are slow in the first two years or so but once established in the ground grow quickly, in the right conditions. This species can tolerate a dry spell of about a month but not to the point of real sub-surface dryness. It can take temporary flooding but not swampy conditions. In much of its habitat, it grows on savannahs of pure quartz sands, just like Frazer Island in Queensland and presumably would grow well there in a protected clearing. However, its temperature tolerance is uncertain. Its habitat temperatures do not drop below 20°C, but it probably would be unaffected by as low as 15°C during winter nights. It is probably limited to tropical and warm-moist subtropical climates that never reach 10°C.

This palm is used locally for thatching and construction. The fruit is used as a dough for various recipes and is fermented into a popular drink.

As a garden plant, it is most attractive to those seeking rareness or curiosities with plenty of space (remember if you want its fruit you will need several plants as it is dioecious). It makes an excellent wide hedge when young. If patient enough the fruit (with a little baking powder) would make amazing pumpkin scones!

Contributed by:

Text and photos contributed by: Martin Couell (www.selffinity.org, Ecuador)

Text and photos contributed by: Martin Couell (www.selffinity.org, Ecuador) ===External Links:=== Kew, PalmWeb, IUCN, JSTOR, Trebrown

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