A Rare Species of Palm Threatened With Extinction


On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek



Attalea crassispatha (C. Martius) Burret, the "Coco rosse" known only to a handful of botanists and the Haitian villagers in the Southwest of Haiti, may be one of the rarest palms in the world. At this writing in 1990 only 20 juvenile and adult trees are known to exist naturally, and they are all located in a few isolated pockets and within about 60 kilometers of one another between the villages of Fonds des Negres and Dumay in the Departement du Sud, SW Haiti.  The Haitian endemic Attalea crassispatha is the most geographically isolated.  

At one time "Coco rosse" was an important tree in Haiti, so much so that maps still show a place named Co Rosse near Fond des Negres, but today only one mature tree is left there. Another one nearby was lost during Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, but not before the mother tree provided five small seedlings that were planted by a Non-Governmental Organization in the region. Only two other trees are currently producing viable seed, the best hope for eventual propagation and avoiding extinction of the species. A few others have not yet reached seed-bearing age. Unfortunately, many of the specimens are over-mature and beyond seed-bearing age. Although very little is known about the tree, it is certain that saving it will require a concerted effort because the intensive land use and grazing pressures in most places prevent any natural seedlings from maturing. With the heightened commitment of donor organizations to bio-diversity, saving the coco rosse would seem to be a cost-effective operation that was partially financed by the US Agency for International Development.





Rare Attalea crassispatha palms


One can only speculate about how numerous the "Coco Rosse" was in past years. Older residents know that school children used to chew on the seed which is the size of a chestnut and has a pleasant nutty taste. Yes, the Footloose Forester couldn't resist munching on one of them during one seed collection operation. Like most palms, the tree was prized for thatch from the leaves and planks from its bole.  It is speculated that its overall utility led to its pending demise.

Except for the herbarium specimen made by the New York Botanical Garden in 1988, the only other herbarium specimen known to exist was prepared over 300 years ago by the French botanist who first described the species Attalea crassispatha.

To be sure, there are many other threatened and endangered species of plants and animals in Haiti, but here is one that is being saved, and not a moment too soon. International Resources Group, under the direct supervision of The Agroforestry Outreach Project; and in collaboration with the New York Botanical Garden lived up to the spirit of biological diversity by doing whatever it takes to save at least one species from extinction.  


Update Edition: 8 May 2008 

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