Chamaedorea elatior Mart., Linnaea 5: 205 (1830)

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Map uses TDWG level 3 distributions (
Guatemala present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Honduras present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Mexico Central present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Mexico Gulf present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Mexico Southeast present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
Mexico Southwest present (World Checklist of Arecaceae)B
MEXICO. Chiapas. Oaxaca. Puebla. Veracruz. GUATEMALA. Alta Verapaz. Huehuetenango. Sacatepequez. San Marcos. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


  • As the only truly vinelike and climbing member of the genus, C. elatior is very distinctive and not likely to be confused with any others. Its climbing, vinelike habit and reflexed, hooklike pinnae which enable it to cling to taller vegetation and grow to great lengths or heights clearly set it apart. One would think that with such a distinctive habit there would be no difficulty in the application of the correct name. However, this is not the case. Schiede discovered C. elatior near Jalapa, Mexico, and sent material to Martius(1830) who published its name and meager description without illustration. The original description is only a few lines in length and tells us next to nothing about the plant, not even whether it is climbing and vinelike or if its apical pinnae are reflexed and hooklike. Also, Schiede's type consists ofan immature inflorescence and part of a leaf, either of which alone or together is hardly diagnostic.
    A few years later, Martius (1837) gave another, and this time illustrated, account of C. elatior in one of the volumes of Historia Naturalis Palmarum. However, apparently the species he discussed and illustrated in his 1837 account was not C. elatior as he treated it in 1830 but rather another undescribed species that Karwinsky had recently introduced to European gardens from Mexico. Wendland (1853c) pointed out that Martius (1837) confused C. elatior with this recent introduction. Wendland recognized the error and named the recent introduction C. karwinskyana (= C. pochutlensis). However, the confusion did not end until as recently as the 1930s; many specimens of C. karwinskyana in collections in Europe were (and probably still are) labeled as C. elatior (Burret 1935).
    I have examined Schiede's type of C. elatior from Munich and much to my consternation, it does not fit well with material bearing that name in herbaria and cultivation. Instead of the apical pinnae being strongly reflexed, those of the type are forwardpointing as in C. karwinskyana. If Schiede's type does, in fact, represent C. karwinskyana then this species (as would C. pochutlensis) would become a synonym of C. elatior and the climbing, vinelike plant that is so well known as C. eliator must be given a new name. The appropriate epithet would be C. scandens since it is the oldest synonym for the climbing, vining plant.
    However, despite the differences in Schiede's type and the material commonly accepted as C. elatior, I am reluctant to propose nomenclatural changes at this time. It is not inconceivable that Schiede's type does indeed represent the climbing, vinelike plant. That plant's first pinnate leaves often do not display strongly reflexed, apical pinnae; in fact, all pinnae may be forward-pointing on young leaves. It could be that the leaf in Schiede's type is one of these young ones not displaying the reflexed apical pinnae. That Martius made no mention of the climbing, vining habit may simply be a reflection of the fact he did not see the plant in its whole and had only Schiede's words from which to derive an idea of its habit. Martius could easily have been confused since the original material he had to work from in 1830 was quite inadequate and this is reflected in his meager description. Upon seeing the more recent introductions in cultivation, Martius may have mistakenly took them to be C. elatior and used this cultivated material to expand descriptions of this species in Historia Naturalis Palmarum. Wendland (1853c) examined additional and, apparently, more typical material ofSchiede's collection at Berlin (unfortunately, the Berlin material has since been destroyed) and came to the conclusion that Martius erred. Wendland felt that the true C. elatior was quite similar to C. scandens. He in turn named as C. karwinskyana the material that Martius (1837) described and illustrated as C. elatior in Historia Naturalis Palmarum.
    Chamaedorea elatior is extremely variable throughout its range. The many names cited in synonymy were distinguished mainly on the number of pinnae or rachillae ofthe pistillate inflorescence and size ofvarious parts. Standley and Steyerrnark (1958) stated that the variation is evident not only in the various stages through which the leaves go as they develop along the stem but in size of parts of plants from the same region. For example, it is possible to find elongate or very short petioles on the same plant. The number of pinnae and of rachillae of the pistillate inflorescence appears to vary sufficiently to make separation of the forms cited in synonymy not only difficult and unworkable but illogical. That its distinctive habit has enhanced its notoriety and resulted in a fairly well documented history in cultivation is evidenced by the numerous synonyms and horticultural forms and frequent references to it in cultivation in Europe and in nursery and gardening catalogs. Linden sent material to Europe from Mexico in 1846 that Wendland (1853c) later named C. desmoncoides. The Southern California Acclimatization Association introduced it to southern California by the turn of the century as C. bambusoides (Guillaumin 1923b).
    Franceschi, who had a nursery near Santa Barbara, California, listed C. desmoncoides as early as 1900 in his catalog of plants (Guillaumin 1923b) and C. bambusoides was in the 1908 edition (Reidel 1957). It appeared in the Doheny collection in Los Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s probably from material that E. Howard, whom Doheny hired to procure plants for his estate, had collected in Mexico.
    Widely cultivated, C. elatior appears in gardens and collections in Hawaii, California, Florida, Australia, Venezuela, and Europe. The form with a solitary, stout stem is the most commonly encountered while the branching, thin-stemmed form is rather uncommon. Some find the strongly smelling staminate flowers objectionable. Plants are difficult to place in the landscape. Without overhead support or taller vegetation such as a sturdy tree on which to climb, they will tend to sprawl along the ground in an unmanageable and potentially destructive manner. Since the stems can become quite heavy, this may damage other plants. It is a unique and interesting palm, though, and when well placed and displayed, such as on a tree or trellis against a wall or side of a building, it will provide an attractive accent. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

Biology And Ecology

  • Moist or wet, dense forest mostly on the Atlantic slope but occasionally on the Pacific slope in Guatemala; 1001,500 m elevation. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

Common Name

  • Tepejilote, tepejilotillo, cola de gullo, junco de bejuco, junco - Mexico. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


    • From the Latin elatus meaning tall, in reference to the long, tall stems. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


    • Habit: solitary or infrequently cespitose and then often branching up to a meter or more above ground, sprawling or subscandent, often arching, but nearly erect when young, to 20 m long or more, crawling up through taller vegetation or simply sprawling on ground. Stem: 0.8-2 cm diam., green, smooth, nodes slightly prominent, internodes 10-30 cm long. Leaves: 5-15, deeply bifid when young becoming progressively more pinnate up the stem until completely pinnate, spreading, arching; sheath to 60 cm long, elongate, tubular, persistent, green, minutely white-spotted, finely longitudinally striate-nerved; petiole 0-30 cm long, flat and green above, pale and rounded below with a slightly prominent light green ridge extending onto sheath; rachis 0.5-3 m long, sharply angled and green above, rounded and with a very faint green band below; blade to 3 m long in very robust individuals but normally 0.5-1.5 m long; pinnae 10-55 on each side of rachis, 20-45 x 1.5-5 cm, linear-lanceolate to linear, alternate basally, opposite apically, equally attenuate, strongly indurate-calloused at very narrowed base, deep green, progressively more reflexed and hooklike toward apex of blade and there downward-pointing, a prominent central midrib and numerous but inconspicuous nerves oflesser orders on each side of this. Inflorescences: interfoliar, breaking through sheaths, erect; peduncles 10-20 cm long, flattened, 1.2 cm wide, 6 mm thick, erect, green where exposed; bracts 3-7, prophyll smallest, this to 10 cm long, others generally 10-15 cm long, often only upper one visible, others concealed by petiole and sheath, upper bract to 13 em long, stout, fibrous, brown at anthesis, longitudinally striate- nerved, acute-acuminate, bifid, upper 2 exceeding peduncle; rachises 5-25 cm long, green, obtusely angled. Staminate with up to 35 rachillae, these to 25 cm long, rounded distally, 3 mm diam., lower ones flattened near base and there to 5 mm wide, simple, spreading, divaricate at right angles, obtuse, or ± reflexed. pistillate similar to staminate but larger, branched portion to 40 x 30 cm, rachillae few to many, to 30 cm long, simple, pale orange or salmon colored or brownish in mature fruit. Flowers: Staminate in moderately dense spirals, 4 x 3.5-4 mm, globose but depressed apically in center, bright yellow, very aromatic, slightly sunken in depressions 1-1.5 mm diam.; calyx 1 x 2.5 mm, shallowly lobed, green, sepals connate nearly to top, broadly truncate apically, nerveless; petals 3.5-4 x 2.5-3.25 mm, obovate, yellow, connate basally and apically, adnate to pistillode apically and corolla opening by lateral slits, acute, slightly fleshy, nerveless; stamens 3 mm high, slightly exceeding pistillode, filaments 1.25-1.5 mm long, whitish, anthers 1.5-2 mm long, oblong, white; pistillode 2.5-3 mm high, columnar, upper half swollen, truncate apically, greenish. Pistillate in remote spirals, 2.5-3 x 2.5-3 mm, globose, yellow, slightly sunken in superficial, elliptic depressions 1-2 mm long; calyx 1-1.25 x 2.3 mm, deeply lobed, green, sepals connate and or slightly imbricate basally, broadly rounded apically, lightly nerved on inside; petals 2.5 x 2.5 mm, imbricate in basal 3/4, acute apically, yellow, fleshy, nerveless; staminodes absent; pistil 2.5 x 1.5-1.75 mm, globose, green, styles short orlacking, stigma lobes distinct, recurved. Fruits: 8-11 mm diam., globose, black with a glaucous bloom, epicarp thin, slightly transparent, mesocarp fleshy, mucilaginous, greenish orange, endocarp membranous, slightly nerved; seeds 6-7 mm diam., globose, brownish. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

    Materials Examined

    • GUATEMALA. Alta Verapaz: Cook 123, 149, 167 (F). Huehuetenango: Steyermark 49513 (GH). Sacatepequez: Standley 63157 (F). San Marcos: Hodel 914 (AGUAT, BH); Steyermark 37101, 37539 (F). MEXICO. Chiapas: Breedlove 21860 (RSA), 56621 MEXU). Oaxaca: Galeotti 4972 (GH, GOET); Vera 3796 (BH, MICH). Puebla: Vera 3325 (BH, MICH). Veracruz: Hodel 921. 949 (BH, MEXU); Purpus 2301 (F), 15409,15785 (MICH); Vasquez 324,326 (F); Vera 3013 (MICH). CULTIVATED. California: research collection, Los Angeles, Hodel 805 (BH), ex Veracruz, Mexico. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


      A. Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.
      B. World Checklist of Arecaceae