Family : Arecaceae
Text © Pietro Puccio
English translation by Mario Beltramini
The species is native to Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico (Chiapas, Oaxaca, Tabasco and Vera Cruz) and Nicaragua where is present, often abundantly, in the underwood of the rain forests, from the sea level up to about 500 m of altitude.
The name of the genus is the combination of the Greek substantives “ἀστήρ” (aster) = star and “κάρυον” (karion) = nut, seed, with reference to the marks present on the seed; the name of the species is the Latin adjective “mexicanus, a, um” = of Mexico, with reference to the place of origin of the type species.
Common names: Mexican forest palm (English); lancetillo (Guatemala); lancetilla (Honduras); acté, chapay, chicalito de tuxtepec, chichón, chocho, coyol redondo, palmilla, tzitzún (Mexico).
The Astrocaryum mexicanum Liebm. ex Mart. (1853) is a species with solitary stem, cylindrical, 1,5-6,5 m tall and of 4-7 cm of diameter thickly covered in correspondence to the scars of the foliar bases of rings of flat spines, black, 3-6 cm long, facing various directions.
Apparently simple leaves, or irregularly divided in the young plants, pinnate in the adult ones, up to about 2 m long, with 15-30 pairs of alternate leaflets, linear with acuminate apex, regularly arranged on a same level along the rachis, 40-50 cm long and 2-2,5 cm broad, the terminal ones united, fishtail, with apex truncated and irregularly toothed, dark green above, glaucous below. Petiole, 50-60 cm long, rachis and foliar base, that wraps only partially the stem, are provided of spines of various length and pointing in different directions.
Erect inforescences among the leaves (interfoliar), initially enclosed in a spiny spathe, compact, 25-30 cm long, with ramifications of first order bearing whitish unisexual flowers on the same inflorescence, with a female flower at the base of the ramification (rachilla) and numerous male flowers for the rest of the length; the inflorescences have the phenomenon of the proterogyny (the female organs mature before the male ones) that favour the crossed fecundation. Ovoidal fruits, 4-5 cm long and 3-4 cm broad, of brown colour and thickly covered by short spines, containing only one seed.
It propagates by seed, previously cleaned from the pulp and immersed in water for two days, in organic draining loam maintained humid at the temperature of 24-28 °C, with germination times starting from 2-3 months.
Very ornamental palm, but to utilize far from places of passage and of rest due to the dangerous spines on the stem and also due to the fruits that while falling on the soil may represent a danger. The young plants are particularly attractive with the undivided leaves, if positioned in sites sheltered from the wind, and may be kept in pot for the decoration of greenhouses and shaded winter gardens. Cultivable in the tropical and humid subtropical climate regions, its cultivation can be tried in the milder warm temperate ones where temperatures around the 0 °C are very short lasting exceptions. It requires fertile and perfectly draining soils, acidic to neutral, maintained constantly humid, but without stagnations, a shaded position during the first years of growth, then from slight shade to full sun when adult.
The stems are utilized by the local populations in the rural constructions, the leaves as cover, the not mature inflorescences and the endosperm of the fruits as food.
Synponyms: Astrocaryum rostratum Hook.f. (1854); Astrocaryum warscewiczii H. Karst. (1858); Astrocaryum warszewiczii H.Karst. (1858); Astrocaryum chichon Linden (1881); Bactris cohune S.Watson (1886); Astrocaryum cohune (S.Watson) Standl. (1930); Hexopetion mexicanum (Liebm. ex Mart.) Burret (1934).
The photographic file of Giuseppe Mazza