I have been writing a lot of posts lately on the various flowering plants I have growing in the garden. Being a palm guy first, I think it is only fitting that I should do a post on that subject. It was easy to choose the palm tree to write about this week because not only does it stand out every time I go in or out my front door, but it is also setting seed. The palm is Chamaedorea angustisecta (pronounced “kam-ee-DOR-ee-uh” “an-goo-ste-SEK-ta”) and as the post title states, it is a “mottled beauty.” For those not sure what the term mottled means, it refers to something that has spots or patches with different shades or colors. In the plant world it is usually green with spots or patches of white or yellow. The crownshaft on one of my Chamaedorea angustisecta can more easily explain.
The genus Chamaedorea is one of the larger in the palm world. Depending on which botanist you trust, there are anywhere from 77 to 100 species within the genus. All but a few are found from Mexico down to Panama. Once you get to South America there are only 3–5 species (again, depends on the botanist you trust). Chamaedorea angustisecta is one of those that resides in South America. The Amazon lowlands of Peru, to be exact. As you can tell from my photos, Chamaedorea angustisecta does surprisingly well in my Southern California garden. Especially considering the fact it comes from such a tropical environment and isn’t found above 700 meters in the wild.
Both of my plants came from a collection done in May of 2008 by palm enthusiast and florida nurseryman Jeff Searle. That collected seed started germinating September of 2008, which means my palms just turned 7 years old. Both of my palms are growing quickly and are starting to punch through the protection of the courtyard. In a few more years they will have grown past the roof line of my house. My largest seems to be handling the additional sun quite well as it grows to the more exposed area. In habitat, Chamaedorea angustisecta is usually found growing to a max height of only 12 feet. So perhaps mine will start to slow down.
Many Chamaedorea look alike. If you were to view a Chamaedorea angustisecta from afar, it could easily be confused for some of its Central American relatives. Only when you move in closer do you find its real charm: its mottling. Mottling is rare in the palm world. Finding a mottled palm that grows in a Mediterranean climate is even a more rare occurrence. We are fortunate here in California to be able to grow such a wonderful palm as Chamaedorea angustisecta. Especially one with such a massive degree of mottling as this one shows. The mottling runs from the base of the plant, up the stem, into the crownshaft and finishes in the petioles. The only part of the palm not mottled are the leaves.
While abundant in habitat, Chamaedorea angustisecta is still very rare in cultivation. However, thanks to Jeff, Chamaedorea angustisecta can be found growing in a few gardens in Southern California. Because Chamaedorea angustisecta is a dioecious palm, a gardener would need both a male and a female plant to propagate this palm by seed. By chance alone I was lucky enough to end up with a male and a female. Below is a photo of my male Chamaedorea angustisecta with inflorescence.
In a possible first for this plant in a California garden, my female is setting seed right now. So hopefully in the not to0 distant future this palm should become more readily available for people wanting to grow it. While the setting of seed looks promising, it should be noted that many Chamaedorea have proven difficult to produce viable seed. Some botanists believe they may need a specific pollinator found in their native habitat in order to be properly fertilized. These Chamaedorea can trick you by setting what looks to be viable seed only to disappoint you when you cut it open and find no embryo. So who knows right now if my setting seed will be viable. Only time will tell and an update will be posted should I germinate the seed.
Chamaedorea angustisecta has proven to be a fairly easy palm to grow here in Southern California. While it can be somewhat fickle at the seedling stage, it is much more vigorous once established in the ground. I have found that treating my Chamaedorea angustisecta like the other Chamaedorea I grow is the best course of action. This means making sure the palm is planted in free-draining soil that is high in organics. Of course mulch is a must. They also need to be well fed and provided with copious amounts of water. They do not like to dry out. My courtyard helps shield them from direct exposure to Santa Ana winds and provides a few extract degrees of cold protection during the winter. The coldest my courtyard has gotten is 34° Fahrenheit. So I can not yet say for sure what degree of cold tolerance this palm has. Currently the only nemesis while growing this palm here are the spider mites. They love Chamaedorea angustisecta.
While Chamaedorea angustisecta may only be one species of almost 250 I have growing in my garden, it has become one of my favorites. It is a true mottled beauty and really needs to be found in more gardens.
Update 3/29/2017: Below is a recent photograph of the male palm in flower. It sends out numerous flowers.