Garfield Park Conservatory Mourns Loss of Rare Double Coconut Palm
Garfield Park Conservatory recently suffered a great loss to its botanical collection with the death of the Double Coconut Palm, also known as Lodoicea maldivica, which lived in the Palm House for 45 years.
“We are shocked and saddened by this great loss. It’s been a very difficult eight months for us in dealing with the massive hail storm damage and now, the loss of our Double Coconut Palm,” said Mary Eysenbach Chicago Park District’s Director of Conservatories. “We are still looking for answers as to what led to its demise. It’s very rare to find a Double Coconut thriving inside a greenhouse and we really have no precedence in helping us find the answers.”
The death of this plant is currently being investigated. Horticultural staff noticed a drastic change in the physical appearance of the Double Coconut and immediately began taking measures to save it by taking soil samples to ascertain potential nutrient or toxicity issues, as well as tissue samples to determine potential pathogens. In addition photos were sent to palm experts around the world to help diagnose and determine the cause of the Double Coconut’s demise.
The Double Coconut Palm at the Garfield Park Conservatory was the largest of its kind living in a greenhouse. This plant is known to produce an extremely large seed that is exceptionally difficult to grow in green houses.
Former horticulturalist Robert Van Tress purchased a seed from the Royal Botanical Garden in Ceylon while on vacation with his wife, in 1960, and attempted to cultivate this plant but failed. After Van Tress retired in 1967, his colleagues remained committed to cultivating the rare plant. Purchasing another double coconut seed for $25, the "staff had to dig a six-foot silo and line it with lead coil to maintain the 80 degree temperature necessary for the seed to grow." Although its chances for survival seemed minimal, the plant thrived on the southern end of the Palm House. In fact, it became too tall for its original location and during the Palm House roof renovation (2003), the plant was moved to a spot with a higher roof to accommodate its growth.
Replacing the Double Coconut is unlikely, since its native country, the Seychelles Islands, a World Heritage Site, has restricted the trade of its nuts and cultivated plants in order to preserve the endangered remaining native stands.