Scientific name: Juania australis
Plant type: Palm
Environment: Well-drained, acidic soil
Uses: Specimen plant
The rare chonta palm (Juania australis) found in the Botanical Garden hails from the Juan Fernandez Archipelago, off the coast of Chile. The Juan Fernandez Archipelago is comprised of three volcanic islands and is home to numerous endemic species found nowhere else. On Robinson Crusoe Island, home to Juania australis, over 60% of the island's flora is endemic. On the island, Juania australis is found in montane rainforests.
In the wild, the species is considered Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The IUCN Red List is an indicator of the health of global biodiversity and reports on “the global extinction risk status of animal, fungus, and plant species.” This palm is considered Vulnerable due to habitat degradation and invasion by non-native species in its natural habitat. Additionally, the species is uncommon in cultivation due to limited availability of seeds.
Despite Juania australis’ vulnerability, the Juan Fernandez Islands were designated a national park in 1935 and were named a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1977, providing protections for the chonta palm and the rest of the native flora.
Juania is a monotypic genus meaning that Juania australis is the only species within the genus. The chonta palm is known for its bright green trunk with prominent scars ringing the trunk from shed leaves. In the wild, mature palms grow to between 10 and 13 meters tall and can live to well over 100 years old. The species is dioecious meaning that it has separate male and female plants.
Juania australis was introduced to science in a publication by Sir Joseph Hooker, a British botanist, and director of Kew Gardens, in 1884. In its native range, the palm species has been used to make handicrafts such as walking sticks or carvings.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text and Photos by Victoria Stewart