An Eco-sustainable World
ArborealSpecies Plant

Caryota ophiopellis

Caryota ophiopellis

The snakeskin fishtail palm or snake-skin palm (Caryota ophiopellis Dowe 1996) is an arboreal species belonging to the Arecaceae family.

Systematic –
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Division Magnoliophyta,
Class Liliopsida,
Subclass Arecidae,
Order Arecales,
Arecaceae family,
Subfamily Coryphoideae,
Tribe Caryoteae
Genus Caryota,
Species C. ophiopellis.

Etymology –
The term Caryota comes from the Latin “caryota, ae”, i.e. date, fruit of the palm.
The specific epithet ophiopellis comes from the Greek “ὄφις”, i.e. snake and from the Latin “pellis, is”, i.e. skin, in reference to the dark bands present on the leaf base, petiole and rachis which resemble a snake’s skin.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Caryota ophiopellis is a plant native to the Vanuatu archipelago (Tanna and Anatom islands).
In these areas the habitat is that of the undergrowth of humid forests, mainly along the coasts, reaching inland up to around 400 m above sea level.

Description –
Caryota ophiopellis is a monoecious, monocarpic plant (which bears fruit only once and then dies), with a solitary stem, 6-9 m in height and 30-40 cm in diameter, of a greyish color on which dark leaf scars are evident of fallen leaves, 20-30 cm apart.
The leaves are bipinnate and are carried by a petiole about 60 cm long; they are up to about 3 m long, with leathery leaflets, bright green in color above, obliquely cuneiform with toothed-crenate apex and regularly arranged on the lateral fins.
The petiole, lower part of the rachis and upper part of the leaf base are covered by a whitish tomentum with dark irregular transverse stripes, which simulate, as reported by the author, the skin of the Candoia bibroni Duméril & Bibron, 1844, a local snake.
The inflorescences form between the leaves; they are about 1 m long, with second order ramifications, one exception for the genus (first order in the other species), bearing unisexual flowers arranged in triads (one female flower between two male ones); the male flowers ripen before the female ones (protandry), favoring cross fertilization. Flowering proceeds from top to bottom (basipeta), once the fruits of the lowest inflorescence have ripened, the plant dies.
The fruits are globose in shape, blackish in color when ripe, about 2 cm in diameter, usually containing one black globular seed, 1-1.5 cm in diameter, rarely two.

Cultivation –
Caryota ophiopellis is a rather rare plant in cultivation, arousing ever more interest due to the unusual and showy coloring of the petioles, particularly in young plants.
In nature it is found from sea level to about 400 m, but predominantly at sea level, and often very close to the ocean, where it is subject to salt spray and strong winds. The soils tend to be quite poor, old volcanic soils. The climate is cool tropical, with 500 – 600 mm of rain per year, mainly in summer, while winters are rather dry. The natives grow the palm here, due to its attractiveness.
For its cultivation it requires a humid tropical or subtropical climate, not supporting temperatures around 0 °C, even if short-lived, a shaded position in the juvenile phase, slightly shaded as an adult, and draining soils, from slightly acidic to neutral, maintained humid.
Young plants are potentially an interesting subject as a potted plant for interior decoration.
Reproduction occurs by seed, previously kept in water for two days, placed in draining organic soil kept constantly humid at a temperature of 26-28 °C, with germination times of approximately three months.

Customs and Traditions –
Caryota ophiopellis, in many respects, is a missing link between Arenga and Caryota, because the inflorescence is branched as in Arenga, while the fruit is also closer in structure to Arenga than to Caryota. She is a very isolated Caryota; its closest relative is found in the Solomon Islands. This sharp divide between closely related plants is quite typical of South Pacific island palms, because many developed in considerable isolation.
The plant is known by various common names, including: snakeskin fishtail palm, snake-skin palm (English); palmier serpent, sagoutier (French); nip, nipitari, inrejei (Vanuatu).
The petiole is the feature of this palm that closely resembles a South Pacific python known locally as “In-reg-jay”.
The stem is rich in edible starch.
The starch contained in the stem, extracted with a particular process and cooked to prepare a sort of bread, is still used by indigenous populations in times of famine.

Preparation Method –
Caryota ophiopellis is a rare palm in cultivation and used for both food and ornamental purposes.
Above all, the starch contained in the stalk is used, cooked to prepare a sort of bread.

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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