Botany

Tree Profiles Blue Latan Palms



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The Blue Latan Palm has the botanical name of Latania loddigesii. It belongs to the tribe Borasseae and the subfamily Coryphoideae. There are three species in the genus with the robust Latania loddigesii being the most vigorous. The blue latan palm is endemic to the Mascarene Islands, in particular Mauritius Island. The island has a dry tropical climate with hot, wet summers. On Mauritius the palms grow on cliffs and in canyons. Although they are close to the shore, the palms are not in the direct path of salt spray from the ocean.

The Blue Latan caught the attention of the Dutch when they first landed on the island in 1598. One of the early settlers installed a distillery and produced palm wine from the blue latans.

Blue latan palms are very distinctive tropical palms of the fan type and arguably one of the best of the ornamental fan type palms. When young, the leaf stems and veins are a striking mottled blue-grey colour. The petioles and leaf margins are a most attractive red. The colour fades with age. Also distinctive is the convoluted surface ornamentation on the broad end of the seed.

This palm is slow growing and reaches a height of some 12 metres at maturity with a trunk diameter of some 5 metres. Being a tropical palm, they like a position in full sun and they require regular water. They do not like frosts but should do well in most other tropical or subtropical locations.

The trunk is grey, lightly ringed and swollen at the base. The flower stalk appears from among the leaves and can reach a length of 0.9 to 1.8 metres. The greenish-brown fruit are plum-shaped, 5cm long and contain three seeds. Mature plants have a compact crown of fan leaves. These are stiff, leathery and blue. The leaf stalks are covered in thick, white wool.

This palm germinates relatively easily from seed although it can take up to several months before it sprouts. Clean the seeds and scratch the hard outside surface with a sharp instrument such as a knife. Soak in warm water for several days then place each seed in a minimum 6” pot. These plants like deep soil. On germinating, a thick ‘sinker’ appears on top of the soil. After a few days, the sinker turns back into the soil. Hopefully, seedlings then appear within a couple of weeks.

The blue latan palm can be grown as a greenhouse specimen. It likes high humidity and bright, indirect sunlight. While the potting mix needs to retain water, it also needs to drain well. A good mix is equal parts of moist peat or humus, garden soil and perlite or coarse sand. This will ensure good drainage. A light dusting of lime will also be beneficial. A monthly application of a water soluble fertiliser or an annual application of a granular slow release fertiliser will be beneficial.


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