An Eco-sustainable World
ArborealSpecies Plant

Latania lontaroides

Latania lontaroides

The red latana (Latania lontaroides (Gaertn.) H.E.Moore, 1963) is an arboreal species belonging to the Arecaceae family.

Systematic –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Division Magnoliophyta,
Class Liliopsida,
Subclass Arecidae,
Order Arecales,
Arecaceae family,
Subfamily Coryphoideae,
Tribe Borasseae,
Subtribe Lataniinae,
Genus Latania,
Species L. lontaroides.
The term is basionym:
– Cleophora lontaroides Gaertn..
The terms are synonymous:
– Cleophora commersonii (J.F.Gmel.) O.F.Cook;
– Cleophora lontaroides Gaertn.;
– Latania borbonica Lam.;
– Latania commersonii J.F.Gmel.;
– Latania plagaecoma Comm.;
– Latania plagaecoma Comm. ex Balf.f.;
– Latania plagicoma Comm.;
– Latania plagicoma Comm. ex Balf.f.;
– Latania rubra Jacq.;
– Latania vera Voss;
– Livistona borbonica (Lam.) B.S.Williams.

Etymology –
The term Latania derives from the Latinization of the name with which palm trees are called on the island of Mauritius, namely: Latanier.
The specific epithet lontaroides refers to the similarity with the palm Borassus flabellifer and derives from the Malay term lontar which identifies the palms of the Borassus genus and from the Greek term εἶδος, eidos, i.e. similar.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Latania lontaroides is a palm endemic to an area which originally included the coastal cliffs and ravines of the Mascarene Islands archipelago, in the Indian Ocean; currently it can only be found spontaneously on the island of La Réunion and in particular on the coast between Petite Ile and Saint-Philippe.
Its natural habitat has been decreasing due to the use of land for agriculture and the increase in human settlement.
Outside of its natural context, it is a plant that has long been marketed internationally for its high ornamental value and is therefore currently commonly cultivated in all countries of the subtropical belt.

Description –
Latania lontaroides is a single-stemmed palm that grows up to 12 m in height and up to 25 cm in diameter, characterized by very slow growth.
It is a dioecious plant, with female and male flowers on different plants.
The stem in adult specimens is grey, smooth, slightly swollen at the base (called “elephant’s foot”) and has rings that constitute the scars of fallen leaves.
The petioles have a variable length between 1 and 1.5 m, they do not have a sheath connecting them to the stem and at the point of intersection with the trunk they spread apart in a V shape.
The petioles of adult plants can be covered with fluff ranging in color from pink to white which also covers the lower part of the lower blade of the leaf.
The leaves are round in shape, rigid and leathery, with a length between 2 and 3 m and a diameter of up to 3 m; they are strongly costapalmate. The costapalmata leaf differs from the more commonly known palmata one, because the leaf segments are not all attached to the end of the petiole, but are symmetrically distributed in the final part of the petiole, which then continues inside the leaf blade causing the terminal part to fold towards the bass. The leaf blade is divided into leaf segments between half and a third of the length of the blade itself.
Furthermore, the edges of the leaves and the prominent veins of the leaf segments have small spines.
The leaves of young plants, especially if exposed to the sun, become completely red, together with the petioles which have the base covered in white wax (hence the name Latana rossa.
As the plant grows, the intensity of the color decreases and the leaves tend to become green, maintaining the red color only on the edge of the leaf segments and on the petioles. In adult plants the color is dark green on the upper side and light green on the lower side, but the leaves are often covered with a glaucous coating, especially in the tropics.
The inflorescences emerge between the leaf bases and those carrying the male flowers are up to 1 m long, while the female ones reach 2 m. Male inflorescences are much more branched than female ones.
The flowers are yellow in color and present in large quantities, especially in the male inflorescences.
The fruits have the shape of a plum, brown in color when ripe; they are up to 7 cm long.
Inside there is a single seed which is round at one end and pointed at the other, very grooved and engraved.
The soft pulp of the fruit is edible, with a coconut-like taste.

Cultivation –
Latania lontaroides is a palm that, in nature, is found on the southern coast of the island between Little Island and San Felipe, in the cliffs and coastal ravines. In these habitats it is threatened by agriculture and the development of human infrastructure.
However, it is grown outside as an ornamental plant and is sold internationally.
This species is, in fact, widely cultivated in the tropical belt both in parks and gardens and in pots, being very slow in growth. It loves the heat very much and tends to suffer in climates where the cool season is long.
It can also grow in Mediterranean climates without frost, although it grows very slowly compared to the growth rate it has in the tropics, albeit low.
Experiences of survival in short frosts (-2 °C) by well-acclimated adult specimens are reported.
It also tolerates marine climates and winds well, but not cold ones.
For cultivation it must be placed in full sun, even in the case of young specimens. When it grows in shade it loses the red color of the leaves and petioles and the leaves become longer.
It prefers to be watered regularly even if it is capable of withstanding short periods of drought, especially in the case of adult specimens. The soil must always be draining.
Propagation occurs by seed.

Customs and Traditions –
Latania lontaroides is known by various names, among these we remember: Red Latan (English), latanier de la Réunion and latanier rouge, palma latan roja (Spanish).
Through the commercialization of this plant, the armored scale insect Hemiberlesia lataniae has spread globally, which was described for the first time on this palm species and has since spread throughout the world and has proven to be a serious parasite of avocado .
The fruits of this plant are used in their places of origin, even if the prevalent use of this plant remains ornamental outside its range.
This palm is currently considered at risk of extinction in its natural habitat and has been listed as “Endagered” on the IUCN Red List since 1998.

Preparation Method –
Latania lontaroides is a palm that, above all in the past, was used for its edible fruits.
Currently the prevalent use, worldwide, is that of an ornamental plant.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora d’Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

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Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and food uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; we therefore decline any responsibility for their use for healing, aesthetic or food purposes.

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