Common Names: macaw palm, gru-gru
Family: Arecacea/Palmae (palm Family)
Palm Drought Tolerant Has evergreen foliage Has Unusual or
At first glance the macaw palm resembles the queen palm (Syagrus
romanzoffianum). However, upon closer inspection, there are several
differences that distinguish the macaw palm. For one, this palm has
a more robust look, denser canopy, and a trunk that is slightly
swollen above the mid-point. The most obvious difference is the
presence of sharp black spines that encircle the trunk. These are
about 4 in (10.2 cm) long and give this palm a vaguely menacing
appearance. Spines are most dense on younger specimens - very old
palms have mostly smooth trunks as spines wear away over time. The
short leaf bases also are armed with spines making this one palm not
to mess around with!
There are typically 20-30 pinnate (compound - feathery) leaves in
the canopy. Each is 10-12 ft (3.1-3.7 m) long and has leaflets about
3 ft (0.9 m) long. They are dark green with a white fuzzy undersides
and look very much like queen palm leaves from a distance. There is
no crownshaft and the yellow flowers, both male and female, are
borne on a 6 ft (1.8 m) long inflorescence. The flower stalk emerges
from a woody spathe (sort of a cylindrical covering). The flowers
are followed by light green fruits that are about 2 in (5.1 cm) in
The macaw palm occurs in tropical areas that are subject to
occasional dry spells. It is endemic to the Caribbean islands of
Martinique and Dominica and is a popular landscape palm throughout
the Caribbean basin.
Although growth is slow, this palm can develop into a very nice
specimen tolerant of salt, poor sandy or rocky soils and heat. Best
growth occurs in fertile well drained soils.
Light: Requires full sun outdoors. Provide greenhouse specimens with
Moisture: The macaw palm has an advantage over the queen palm in
that it can tolerate dry spells more easily. But for fast growth and
best looks, keep the soil moist.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 10A - 11. Enthusiasts are growing macaw palm
in central Florida (Zone 9) with success but young specimens must be
protected from the occasional frost.
Propagation: Seeds germinate in 4-6 months and should be scarified
to hasten germination. Warm conditions with temperatures above 75ºF
The macaw palm is best used as a specimen tree on large properties.
Small groves of macaw palm are especially attractive. We'd like to
see it used more as a street tree and in urban plantings, where its
slow growth and drought resistance would be appreciated by
maintenance crews, and its unusual beauty enjoyed by passersby. Take
care not to plant this palm in confined areas where people may come
into contact with the dangerous spines.
In its native regions Acrocomia aculeata is an extremely useful
plant. The starchy pith, which makes up the inner core of the trunk,
is used for cattle food in the dry season. The starch is extracted
and is often fermented into an alcoholic drink. The fibrous leaves
are used to make rope and twine. Oil can be pressed from the fruits
which can also be boiled and eaten - although they are usually not
the tastiest morsels on the table.
As beautiful as it is, the Macaw Palm is very spiny. Plant it away
from living areas and walkways where the fearsome armament cannot