Hyophorbe lagenicaulis

bottle palm


Hyophorbe lagenicaulis

(L.H.Bailey) H.E.Moore 1976

pronounced: hy-oh-FOR-bee lag-en-ee-KAW-liss

(Arecaceae — the palm family)

synonym — Mascarena lagenicaulis

L.H.Bailey 1942

pronounced: mass-kar-EE-nuh lag-en-ee-KAW-liss

common name: bottle palm

Hyophorbe comes from two Greek words, 'υς, 'υος (hys, hyos), a pig, and φορβη (phorbe), food, fodder, while lagenicaulis is Latin, from lagena, a flask or flagon, and caulis, a stem, stalk. Presumably pigs like to forage on the shed fruits of the plants of the genus, and the specific refers to the bottle shape of the trunk.

This palm is a native of Round Island, a tiny islet in the Mascarene Island group in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar, hence the synonym. There are said to be fewer than 15 specimens remaining in the wild, but the future of the species is assured due to its popularity as a cultivated palm. This plant is very frost-sensitive, and for that reason is grown in pots indoors in colder climates. Thanks to the slow rate of growth, it takes a long time for a tree to outgrow its container, and the use of containers allows people to move the tree around as required, even outdoors in the summer months. When indoors, it needs to be in as sunny a spot as possible.

Round Island also hosts a number of other unique plants and animals, many of which are, unfortunately, endangered. Some conservationists are campaigning for the bottle palm and some of the other endangered species to be replanted on Round Island. The Mascarene Islands, which include Mauritius and Réunion, had no human populations until they were settled in the 17th century. Settlers cleared most of the forests for agriculture and grazing, and introduced many exotic species, including pigs, rats, cats, monkeys and mongooses (the islands had no native mammals except bats). Between them, the settlers and the introduced mammals wiped out many species of native plants, animals and birds, the most famous of which were the dodo and the giant tortoises of the Cylindraspis.

This is a slow-growing dwarf palm up to 5 m tall, with a characteristic swollen bottle-shaped trunk, up to 60 cm in diameter at the base. There is a tremendous variation in the trunk shapes of individual palms. Many people believe that the bottle shape of the trunk is a means by which the palm stores water, but this is a myth. The palm has a small crown of 4 – 8 upwardly-arching pinnate leaves, up to about 3.5 m long in mature palms. The leaflets are up to about 60 cm long.

Inflorescences with white flowers emerge at the base of the leaves, grow upwards, and then turn downwards with the weight of the maturing fruit. Trees do not usually flower until the 8 – 10th year of growth. The fruits are ovoid, up to 4 cm long, borne in large clusters, turning black when ripe.
Bottle palms need full sun to part shade, preferring an environment that is sheltered from the wind. They are capable of coping with very poor soil conditions and salt spray, thanks to the harsh environment of Round Island, but caring for a bottle palm with a good soil and a fertilizer will encourage the tree to stay healthy and to grow more quickly.


Photographs taken in Nelly Bay 2010
Page last updated 16th January 2019