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Phoenix is a genus of 14 species of palms, native from the Canary Islands east across northern and central Africa, the extreme southeast of Europe (Crete), and southern Asia from Turkey east to southern China and Malaysia. The diverse habitats they occupy include swamps, deserts, and mangrove sea coasts. Most Phoenix species originate in semiarid regions but usually occur near high groundwater levels, rivers or springs. The genus is unique among members of the subfamily Coryphoideae, being the only one with pinnate, rather than palmate leaves.[3] The generic name derives from φοῖνιξ (phoinix) or φοίνικος (phoinikos), the Greek word for the date palm used by Theophrastus and Pliny the Elder. It most likely referred to the Phoenicians, Phoenix, the son of Amyntor and Cleobule in Homer’s Iliad, or the Phoenix, the sacred bird of Ancient Egypt.[4] The palms were more numerous and widespread in the past than what they are at present.

Description

This genus is mostly medium to robust in size but also includes a few dwarf species; trunks are solitary in four species, suckering and clumped in nine, of which one has a prostrate ground trunk. Many of the trunked species do not form above-ground stems for several years. The pinnate leaves, 1–6 m long, all share the common feature of metamorphosed lower-leaf segments into long, vicious spines (acanthophylls). The leaves have short or absent petioles and possess the rare feature among pinnate palms of induplicate (V-shaped) leaflets. The plants are dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants; pollination is by both wind and insect. The flowers are inconspicuous yellowish-brown and about 1 cm wide, but grouped on conspicuous large multi-branched panicles 30–90 cm long. The inflorescence emerges from a usually boat-shaped, leathery bract, forming large, pendent clusters. Phoenix fruit develops from one carpel as a drupe, 1–7 cm long, yellow to red-brown or dark purple when mature, with one elongate, deeply-grooved seed.

Ecology

Majority of the forest palms grow under the shade of dominating forests trees along fragile hill slopes and stream courses in warm humid conditions. The palms are found growing on a wide variety of soils, Often extend to degraded forest margins in grasslands. In tropics most of them are found below 1250 m altitude. Branching of aerial trunk is rare and is mainly induced by injury to the terminal growing bud. Flowering and fruit is regular and annual. The reproduction is by seeds and also by vegetative multiplication. Many species of Phoenix, produce vegetative offshoots called bulbils from basal portions of their stems which, on rooting, develop new sapling. Close relationship among the 14 species is illustrated by the ease of hybridisation and cross-pollination (Moore, 1963; Munier, 1973). Several natural hybrids were hence obtained: P. dactylifera X. P. sylvestris (India); P. dactylifera × P. canariensis (Morocco, Algeria and Israel); P. dactylifera × P. reclinata (Senegal). Phoenix species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Paysandisia archon and the Batrachedra species B. amydraula (recorded on P. dactylifera), B. arenosella and B. isochtha (feeds exclusively on Phoenix spp.).

Uses

The fruit of P. dactylifera, the date of commerce, is large with a thick layer of fruit pulp, edible, very sweet and rich in sugar; the other species have only a thin layer of fruit pulp. The central soft part of the stem of Phoenix rupicola, P. acaulis, and P. humilis is a rich source of starch. Palms are felled to extract this central ‘pith’ which is dried, powdered, stored and used for preparation of bread by India natives.[5] The Phoenix canariensis sap is cooked to a sweet thick syrup. P. sylvestris Roxb. is widely used in India as a source of sugar. The sugary sap from some african palms yields country liquor on fermentation (palm wine).

While P. dactylifera is grown for its edible dates, the Canary Island Date Palm (P. canariensis) and Pygmy Date Palm (P. roebelenii) are widely grown as ornamental plants, but its dates are used as food for livestock and poultry. The Canary Island Date Palm differs from the Date Palm in having a stouter trunk, more leaves to the crown, more closely spaced leaflets and deep green rather than grey-green leaves. The fruit of P. canariensis is edible, but rarely eaten by humans because of their small size and thin flesh.

The different species of the genus frequently hybridise where they grow in proximity. This can be a problem when planting P. canariensis as an ornamental plant, as the hybrid palms are aesthetically inferior and do not match the pure-bred plants when planted in avenues, etc.

Trivia

The city of Phoenix, Arizona got its name from this genus because of its cultivation of Phoenix dactylifera, or date palms.

Written on February 20th, 2012 , Botany, Forestry Tags:

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