Corypha umbraculifera, or Talipot Palm
The Corypha umbraculifera or “talipot palm” is a gargantuan plant (compared to other palms), which grows up to 80+ feet high and has a one-meter-thick trunk. Its branched inflorescence is a remarkable 19 to 26 feet tall—the largest of any plant, consisting of one to several million small flowers borne on a branched stalk that forms at the top of the trunk (the titan arum, Amorphophallus titanum, from the family Araceae, has the largest unbranched inflorescence, and the species Rafflesia arnoldii has the world’s largest single flower).
It takes extreme patience to see this tree in bloom, as it only flowers once when it is 30 to 80 years old. The inflorescences consists of one to several million small flowers borne on a branched stalk that forms at the top of the trunk.
Seeing the bloom is somewhat bittersweet, as it means the palm’s life is coming to an end. It expends aall of its built-up energy to produce golf ball-sized fruit, which rain down by the hundreds of thousands just before the palm dies. The tree is often referred to as the Century Palm, a metaphorical allusion to a presumed 100-year life span.
Historically, the leaves (known as “ola leaves”) were written upon using an iron stylus in various Southeast Asian cultures to create traditional palm leaf manuscripts and for fortunetelling (horoscopes) in Southern India and Sri Lanka. The great Indian epic, Ramayana, was said to have been written on these olas.
The talipot is the national tree of Sri Lanka and is harvested for a variety of goods, including timber, thatch, and buttons (made from the seeds).
There are two of these trees – one seedling and one juvenile palm – growing in the Merwin Palm Collection on Maui.
Want to “virtually explore” the Merwin Palm Collection? Search through our archive of Palm Facts of the Week, featuring palms hand-planted by W.S Merwin. To search through the Online Merwin Palm Database, visit this link.
If you’re inspired to help The Merwin Conservancy preserve and care for the Merwin Palm Collection into the future, please consider making a tax-deductible donation.