My absolute favourite palm.
First mentioned in Caspar Bauhin’s Pinax, published in 1623, in which it was described as “species palmae, quae Coquillo dicitur in Chile, fructu suaviore” [“palm species with sweet fruit known as Coquillo in Chile”]. A more comprehensive account of the palm and its first scientific name were published in 1808 by Giovanni Molina in his Saggio sulla Storia Naturale del Chili, translated into English by Henry Boyd as The Geographical, Natural and Civil History of Chili. He named it Palma chilensis Molina, which is the basis for the current name. In the English second edition, he reclassified it as Cocos chilensis (Molina) Molina, in recognition of the obvious relationship with Cocos. In 1816, Karl Sigismund Kunth described the genus as new, naming it Jubaea, after Juba II (ca 25 BC to 23 AD), the king of the ancient kingdom of Mauretania (an area corresponding to western Algeria and northern Morocco), but he did not explain why he associated this palm with Juba. Kunth named the species J. spectabilis. As more specimens became available and the flora of Chile became better known, botanists realized that C. chilensis and J. spectabilis were indeed one species; in 1895, in keeping with the principle of nomenclatural priority, the French botanist Henri Ernest Baillon made the combination Jubaea chilensis , the name by which the palm is known today.
It is also famously mentioned by Charles Darwin who visited Chile in HMS Beagle in 1834 and wrote , These palms are, for their family, ugly trees. Their stem is very large, and of a curious form, being thicker in the middle than at the base or top. They are excessively numerous in some parts of Chile, and valuable on account of a sort of treacle made from the sap.
Sometime between 1843 and 1846, Jubaea chilensis arrived at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where it thrived in the greenhouses. In the 1870s, a specimen in a tub was displayed outside Kew’s main gate. Later, that palm was planted in the Temperate House and grew into the world biggest indoor plant, sadly cut down in 2014 as it was pushing through the roof.
Jubaea chilensis is the worlds cold hardiest feather palm, it is also the second most massive palm tree on the planet.
Extremely hardy , taking cold to beyond -10C , there are mature specimens in Torquay. Capable of shrugging off all but the severest winter weather , with a little protection during rare severe weather events they can be grown throughout large parts of the UK. They have survived cold spells as low as -18C.
Relatively slow growing until a 50 litre size , they suddenly speed up rapidly and grow extremely well. It is worth investing in a larger plant due to the slow initial growth. Only the less hardy Phoenix canariensis will grow faster than a large Jubaea.
Jubaeas require space to grow as Jubaeas have a trunk width of over a metre. They are best sited in a sunny well drained spot and benefit from being planted in raised beds. They are capable of holding leaves in the UK for more than 7 years and can hold crowns of more than 50 leaves.
They dont flower until at least 30 years old in habitat, in the UK this will be closer to 50 years or more. The Kew specimen didnt flower until it was over 80 years old.