Chamaedorea graminifolia H.Wendl., Index Palm. : 62 (1854)

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BELIZE. Cayo. Toledo. GUATEMALA. Alta Verapaz. MEXICO (Tehuantepec.) COSTA RICA? (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


  • Wendland described and named C. graminifolia from cultivated material that Linden supposedly introduced to European gardens from Guatemala. Strangely, the horticultural and botanical literature has given scant attention to it over the years, then often erroneously or only to note that it was a poorly known and understood species.
    Staminate flowers of C. graminifolia, like those of C. hooperiana, C. elatior, and C. glaucifolia, are bright yellow, strongly aromatic, only faintly nerved or nerveless when dry, and, at times, tend to spread slightly apically well after anthesis. Although I include them in subgenus Chamaedorea since at anthesis the staminate petals are connate apically and the corolla opens by lateral slits, they approach several cespitose species in subgenus Chamaedoropsis florally, namely C. seifrizii and C. pochutlensis. These latter species also have nerveless, bright yellow, aromatic staminate flowers but the petals spread apically yet often only slightly so, the tips remaining incurved over the stamens and nearly adnate to the pistillode. Surprisingly, Wendland's type material of C. graminifolia at GOET has the staminate petals free apically yet when Wendland named and described the species, he did so stating that the petals were connate apically.
    Although apparently never common in the wild in the past, C. graminifolia is now, due to habitat destruction, even more uncommon. Its existence in Costa Rica is somewhat tenuous; only three collections, none of which is recent, document it there. There is also a collection at the Bailey Hortorium from plants cultivated in the 1920s in California that purportedly originated from the Tehuantepec region of Mexico.
    We found C. graminifolia at several locations in Belize, always at the summits oflimestone hills where it forms open clumps of finely divided leaves to as much as five meters across and ofthe same sex. The forest in the area not on, but surrounding, the limestone hills has largely been destroyed, so it is not possible to determine if the species once inhabited lower, level areas. However, it appears that C. graminifolia is mainly restricted to the summits and adjacent upper slopes since we did not encounter it on the lower slopes even though there was often suitable habitat. The forest on limestone hills is quite open and the palms grow on solid limestone rock covered with a layer of leaf litter. During the extended dry season, the substrate can become exceedingly parched. In May, 1991, companion shrubs and trees were actually wilted due to the intense and prolonged dry spell yet C. graminifolia seemed to?be thriving.
    The numerous and narrow linear pinnae and stems forming rather open and wide-spreading clumps readily distinguish C. graminifolia. In many ways, it reminds one of a cespitose C. glaucifolia. It even has the characteristic glaucous covering on the leaf sheath, petiole, and rachis as does the latter species. Once they drop their persistent leafsheaths, the stems of C. graminifolia are also covered with a waxy, glaucous material. The clump-forming habit of C. graminifolia is rather distinctive. Stems are well separated by rhizomes and often emerge from the ground a meter distant from the main stem. Material grown as C. graminifolia is usually misidentified; the name is often applied to a form of C. elegans or to C. seifrizii. Hertrich (1951, p. 23) and McCurrach (1 960, page 43) contain photographs of a form of C. elegans with long-pedunculate inflorescences incorrectly captioned as C. graminifolia. Muirhead (1961) listed C. graminifolia but is probably referring to C. glaucifolia or C. seifrizii. Krempin (1990, p. 92, 93) discussed and illustrated C. graminifolia but the description and photograph depict C. seifrizii.
    Standley (1931) and Chittenden (1951) listed C. graminifolia for Costa Rica and, although it has been collected there a few times, their descriptions depict other species. Standley (1920) listed it from the Yucatan in Mexico although he expressed uncertainty about the application ofthe name and was probably referring to C. seifrizii. Standley and Calderon (1925) listed C. graminifolia for El Salvador where it is known as cuiliote or cuiliote amargo but the plant is probably C. quezalteca.
    On the other hand, the name C. schippii, a synonym of C. graminifolia, is rather frequent in the literature and horticulture. Burret described and named it from material that William Schipp, who called it one ofthe most beautiful and elegant palms, had collected in the Jacinto Hills ofsouthern Belize. However, this name is also usually misapplied in horticulture, in this instance to hybrid plants in cultivation. Pure C. schippii (= C. graminijolia) is not cultivated, at least in southern California; plants so referred there are actually hybrids with C. pochutlensis. Krempin (1990, p. 92, 93) discussed and illustrated C. schippii but the description and photograph depict this hybrid.
    Collectors have made this hybrid in California and perhaps elsewhere reportedly between C. schippii (= C. graminijolia) and C. costaricana. However, it is not C. costaricana but C. pochutlensis that was utilized as one of the parents with C. schippii (= C. graminijolia). Since C. graminijolia in cultivation is already hybridized and, therefore, not pure, the resulting offspring are in reality backcrosses with C. pochutlensis. Local inhabitants in Belize refer to C. graminijolia as chapai and state that its leaves are boiled in water and the liquid used to treat high blood pressure and diabetes. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

Biology And Ecology

  • Moist or wet forest on the Atlantic slope; to 700 m elevation; on limestone. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


  • From the Latin gramen meaning grass and folius meaning pertaining to the leaves, in reference to the narrow grasslike pinnae. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

Common Name

  • Chapai - Belize. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A


    • Habit: cespitose, erect to leaning, to 4 m tall, forming open clusters and colonies 1-5 m across by spreading rhizomes. Stems: separated, 2-3 cm diam., green with dense glaucous covering, ringed, internodes to 30 cm long. Leaves: 4-6, erect-spreading, pinnate, to 1.75 m long; sheath to 20-40 cm long, tubular for 3/4 its length, obliquely open apically and there light green and longitudinally striate-nerved and slightly glaucous, ± thick and durable, green, brown-margined, drying brownish, persistent; petiole 15-25 cm long, slightly glaucous, ± rounded above and gray-green but slightly grooved near base, rounded and green below; rachis to 70-110 cm long, angled and green above, gray-green and rounded below with a faint yellow-green band extending onto sheath, slightly glaucous; pinnae 22-42 on each side of rachis, to 40 x 1.5-2.5 cm, narrowly linear to long lanceolate, straight, acute to acuminate, ± drooping apically, gray-green, regularly arranged except basal ones sometimes clustered irregularly, all except ± wider terminal pair with prominent midrib scarcely keeled above and I primary nerve on each side of this, pinnae drying slightly plicate. Inflorescences: infrafoliar, emerging from persistent leaf bases, erect, solitary; peduncles 15-35 cm long, to I cm wide at base, 2-3 mm diam. at apex, greenish in flower, red-orange in fruit; bracts 5-7, prophyll to 2.5 cm and bifid, 2nd bract 6 cm, 3rd 11 cm,4th 16 cm, 5th-7th to 20 cm, uppermost exceeding peduncle and often concealing a rudimentary bract, tubular, brownish in flower, acute to auminate, longitudinally striate-nerved, upper ones slightly inflated, apical one exceeding peduncle and extending onto rachis; rachises 5-10 cm long, greenish yellow in flower, red-orange in fruit. Staminate with 12-35 rachillae, these to 25 cm long, 1-2 mm diam., ± pendulous, green in flower. Pistillate with 10-22 rachillae, these to 15 cm long, spreading to ascending or curved-ascending, ± stout and stiff, 3 mm diam., yellow-green and minutely white-spotted in flower, red-orange in fruit. Flowers: Staminate in moderate spirals, 2 x 2-2.5 mm, depressed- globose, flattened apically, yellow, aromatic, superficial or only slightly sunken in elliptic depressions 1.5 mm long; calyx 0.5-0.75 x 1.5 mm, deeply lobed, green, sepals connate in basal 1/2, broadly rounded apically, nerveless; petals 2.5-3 x 1.75 mm, valvate, connate apically and basally and adnate apically to pistillode, perhaps with age becoming free apicalIy, broadly oblong, acute, ± fleshy, lightly nerved, more so when dry; stamens 1.5-1.75 mm high, filaments 1 mm long, anthers 0.75-1 mm long, dorsifixed, yellow; pistillode 2 mm high, columnar, broadened basally, 3-lobed, yelIowish. Pistillate in moderate spirals, 2 x 1.5-2 mm, ovoid to globose, yelIowish, slightly sunken in elliptic depressions 1.75 mm long; calyx 0.5-0.75 x 1.75 mm, deeply lobed, greenish, sepals imbricate in basal 1/2 broadly rounded apically; petals 1.75 x 2.5 mm, imbricate nearly to apex, triangular, acute, ± erect apically, faintly nerved when dry; staminodes not seen; pistil 2 x 1.75 mm, ± globose or ovoid, green, stigma lobes very short, virtually sessile. Fruits: 6-10 mm diam., globose, black; abortive carpels adherent to fruit. (Hodel, D. 1992. Chamaedorea Palms, The Species and Their Cultivation. The International Palm Society.)A

    Materials Examined

    • BELIZE. Cayo: Hodel 1128A, 1128B, 1129A, 1129B, 1132A, 1132B (BH); Keim 536 (BH); Lundell 6853 (MICH). Toledo: Davidse 32139 (CAS). COSTA RICA. Alajuela: Koschny s.n. (GOET); Cook 78 (US). Limon: Standley 49006 (US). GUATEMALA. Alta Verapaz: Steyermark 45612 (F); Cook 80 (US). CULTIVATED. USA. California: Doheny Estate, Los Angeles, Bailey 9125 (BH), ex Tehuantepec, 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.