The world’s rarest wild palm tree Corypha taliera is dying

The last wild Corypha taliera has started to flower and will now die

Corypha taliera is a solitary, massive, moderately slow growing, monoecious palm with a hapaxanthic or monocarpic mode of growth where the plant dies after setting seed. The palm grows for say 80 years without producing a flower, then upon coming of age the flower grows out of the top of the tree, the leaves die and fall off leaving a massive terminal panicle flower atop the massive trunk. C. taliera holds two world records which it shares with Corypha umbraculifera, the largest flower structure among flowering plants and the largest palmate leaf which is 6 m. (20 ft.) wide.

Corypha taliera

Corypha taliera

Although the palm in the scrub jungle on the Dhaka University campus is the last known Corypha taliera growing in the wild, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has already classified the plant on its Red List, as being “extinct in the wild”. This is because molecular work – which is required to confirm the identification – still hasn’t been taken out on the plant. Until molecular work is carried out, they will only say that this plant has been “tentatively identified”. Also, IUCN say that it’s unclear about whether or not the specimen originated from cultivated material. They also mention that the plant is effectively in a “cultivated state”, and therefore probably wouldn’t count towards the “wild” classification. Although not in the wild, Corypha taliera specimens are currently growing in the Indian Botanic Garden and the Fairchild Tropical Garden in Florida, USA. Because these aren’t growing in the natural environment, they don’t count for “wild” plants hence the IUCN classification “Extinct in the Wild”.

No other specimen of Corypha taliera palm has been found in the wild in almost 30 years. In 1979, a C. taliera, located in the Birbhum district of West Bengal in a village near Shantiniketan, had begun flowering. The locals fearing that it was a “ghost palmyra palm” Borassus flabellifer, due to its horn-like flowers, chopped it down before the flower could set seed.

But all is not lost. This news that it is dying is good news

This is not the last Corypha taliera palm tree in existence, it is merely the last in a wild state. There are several trees still remaining at the Adward Park, Bogra, Bangladesh, and also Howrah botanic garden in India. A cultivated specimen in Howrah botanic garden ultimately flowered and its seeds were saved and raised to seedlings with some sent to the Fairchild Tropical Garden, Florida, USA. These plants are now quite large and will flower in about 80 years.

Our tree at the Dhaka University campus will ultimately produce millions of golf-ball sized seeds, which will rain down for months. These seeds will be raised into new trees. We now have good hopes of increasing the population and re-planting back into the wild. Talks are undergoing, but it currently looks like none of these seeds will be distributed abroad, and all will be planted in its native land.