This palm is the king of Camana Bay

Underneath tall palm tree
The king palm — or Archontopheonix alexandrae — can be found throughout Camana Bay. — Photos: Shannon Schmidt

While May is for mothers, June is always a special month for the other parental figure in our lives.

He goes by many names — father, pop, dad, stepdad or the man who has become an influential person in our lives and helped shape who we are and who we're becoming. If he is lucky, there is a good chance he has also been dubbed, “king of the castle.” This month we celebrate the newly crowned king's official birthday, and we may as well add in a third king to the June celebration — king palm!

The king palm — or Archontopheonix alexandrae — is quite the anomaly when it comes to Botanical Latin. As we know from past Focus on Flora articles, plants are often named after their physical characteristics, their native region, the person who discovered them or for another historically or culturally important reason.

King palm is Native to Queensland, Australia, and it is a well-known fact that this king palm’s specific epithet (there are other palms in the Archontophoenix genus) pays homage to Princess Alexandra of Denmark. So why then is it called king palm? The patriarchal monarchy reference is derived from the genus itself, where archon/archontos is Latin for “chieftain, or ruler”; and phoenix is indicative of the palm’s resemblance to the phoenix palm in the steeped and ridged appearance of its trunk.

Once you have laid your eyes on the king palm, it is plain to see how such a regal name was settled upon. Reaching heights of 75-80 feet and with a spread of 15-25 feet, this palm tree is a botanical work of art. Thick, luscious deep green fronds extend adroitly from the sturdy lime green crown, with their slender and acuminate (pointed) leaflets swaying proudly in the breeze.

The infrafoliar inflorescence is resemblant of a flowing waterfall as it cascades toward the ground, parallel to the beautiful brownish-gray trunk. The creamy white flowers are an inviting space for pollinators to visit, maturing into bright red fruit, which gives this palm year-round visual interest. Like other tropical/sub-tropical palms, the king palm performs best at or near sea level, with bright, filtered light. It will tolerate a range of soils, but the Archontophoenix palm does not mind a bit more water than most other palms. It is a fast grower, and both the watering needs and growth rate should be taken into consideration when choosing a planting location.

Quite easily propagated from seed, the king palm is popularly planted in groups or clusters at differing heights to accentuate the aesthetic characteristics. The king palm stands proudly in the perimeter bed of Camana Bay's Solaris roundabout, near Jessie’s Juice Bar. It can also be found just south of Mail Boxes Etc. near the entrance to the parking garage.

This article was published in the June 2023 print edition of Camana Bay Times.

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